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Authors: Margaret Allison

Mistletoe Maneuvers

BOOK: Mistletoe Maneuvers
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“You're Not Going To Get Undressed Here, Are You?”

“No.” In fact, Rick wasn't thinking about undressing himself, but her. What the hell was going on here? This was a business relationship. She was Alessandra Lawrence, chairman of the board. The one who fired him.

So why did he want to rip off her suit and take her right on the bed?

Because she was a beautiful woman. He'd always suspected as much, of course. But with her conservative suits and reserved manner, he never saw her as anything more than a wolf in sheep's clothing. He had her pegged as an uptight prude.

But there was something about her now that gave him pause. She had a quality, a way about her. There was a spark there. A connection. But whatever it was, it needed to be ignored. She was off-limits. Forever and always.

This whole thing was make-believe. And he needed to keep it that way.

MISTLETOE MANEUVERS
MARGARET ALLISON

Books by Margaret Allison

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MARGARET ALLISON

was raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, and received a B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan. A former marketing executive, she has also worked as a model and actress. The author of several novels, Margaret currently divides her time between her computer, the washing machine and the grocery store. She loves to hear from readers. Please write to her c/o Silhouette Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.

For my sister, Jenny, with love.

One

I
t was nearly midnight, two weeks before Christmas, and for the first time in months they were alone. As if anticipating what was to come, Rick grinned, silently daring her. Tall and ruggedly handsome, with thick black hair and piercing blue eyes, Rick Parker was the type of man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. A modern-day pirate, he traveled the world collecting beat-up hotels, jewels in the rough, turning them into luxurious resorts.

It was now or never. Lessa took a breath of courage, determined to say the three words she had wanted to say for years. She was so close she could smell his expensive aftershave, so close she could smell the minty freshness of his breath.

“You're fired, Rick.”

The muscles in his jaw tightened and his eyes dark
ened as the impact of her words sank in. “I'm not going to let you take this company away from me,” he said.

A flicker of apprehension coursed through her. After all, this was the man who had orchestrated a corporate mutiny, betraying his own mentor. Since then his domineering style of management had turned Lawrence Enterprises into a behemoth of a company, earning its fearless leader his pirate nickname along the way. What, she couldn't help but wonder, would he do to her?

But if he thought a threat would help save his job, he was wrong. She had promised her father on his deathbed that she would get revenge on the man who had stolen his company. That she would one day fire Rick Parker.

Since she had returned to the business six months ago, Rick had only added to her determination. He had done his best to thwart her path, treating her more like an annoying schoolgirl than an accomplished businesswoman. He fought her on every aspect of her agenda, from the color of the new logo to the direction of the company. It was as if he still considered her the same girl who had suffered a crush on him so fierce that a mere glance in her direction could cause her heart to soar. He should've realized he had lost his power over her long ago. He couldn't make her walk the plank any more than he could swindle her out of the company. “There's nothing you can do,” she said. “I am chairman of the board.”

“A situation that has everything to do with stock and nothing to do with expertise.”

“My father had always intended for me to run this company. I've worked long and hard for this moment, Rick. I own a majority and I'm qualified. I've paid my dues.”

“Your father may have started this company but I am the one who made it what it is. This company needs me.”

“No, Mr. Parker. This company does not need you. Neither do I.”

He leaned backward, crossing his arms. “The board is in agreement?”

In fact, she had had to struggle for the board's approval to fire Rick. Ultimately, they had had no choice but to agree with her. After all, as Rick had just said, she owned two thirds of the stock. “Yes,” she said.

There was no mistaking the glimmer of anger in his eyes. He stood up and turned his back on her as he walked to the window. From their vantage point on the top floor of a New York City high-rise, he had a bird's-eye view of the twinkling city, lit up for the impending holiday.

“I don't want to hurt you, Alessandra,” he said, referring to her by her full name, which was seldom used.

“Hurt me?” If she wasn't mistaken, she was the one who had fired him.

“I guarantee you, if you go through with this, you'll regret it.” He turned around to face her.

“I don't think so,” she said. Who did he think he was anyway? She stood up and straightened her suit jacket. “I've read your contract. You have a noncompete clause. Due to your work and contributions to this company, I will grant you some of the dignity you did not extend to my father. You have until the end of the day tomorrow to clear out your office.”

“So this is your revenge, is it?” he asked. “You should know I didn't have anything to do with the way your father was fired.”

“You may not have pulled the trigger but you were the one who loaded the gun.” Bravo. That was a line she had worked on, one she never actually thought she would say. She gave him a quick, curt nod. “Goodbye, Rick.”

She could almost feel his eyes watching her as she walked out of his office. She shut the door behind her and let out a sigh of relief as she leaned up against it. She had done it. She had fired Rick Parker and lived to talk about it. She had expected a bloody uprising, a long and drawn-out war. But in one anticlimactic moment, it was over. All of her years of study and work had paid off. Rick Parker would not be a part of her life or her father's company anymore.

Rick's secretary stepped off the elevator and smiled at Lessa. Betty had worked at Lawrence for years and had been Rick's secretary ever since he had arrived. “Hello, Lessa,” she said cheerfully.

Lessa felt a pang of guilt. Unlike her boss, Betty was kind and good-hearted. For some reason that Lessa couldn't fathom, she was also devoted to her boss. She knew Betty would be upset to hear that her longtime boss would not be working there anymore.

“What are you doing here so late?” Lessa asked.

“Rick had some research he wanted ASAP,” Betty said, rolling her eyes. “Some people have no respect for the Christmas season. I've only got half of my shopping done. Have you started yet?”

Lessa was finished with her Christmas shopping only because there was just one person on her list—Gran. Almost eighty years old, Gran was her great-aunt, her only living relative and her best friend. Lessa had always been close to her aunt and had grown even closer after
her father had died. Gran had been awarded custody and Lessa had moved into her small condo in a Florida retirement community. Years later, when her aunt sustained an injury, Lessa had repaid the favor, moving Gran into her New York apartment so that she could care for her. Although her aunt was healed and could have moved back into her old condo, Gran had made it clear that she liked staying with Lessa. And Lessa preferred it that way, too. After years of living by herself, it was nice to have some company. “I'm done with my shopping,” Lessa said.

“Oh, lucky girl. How do you have time? You're here around the clock.”

“The Internet.”

“Ah. I still like to shop the old-fashioned way. I love being in stores during Christmas. There's an excitement in the air, don't you think?”

“Yes,” Lessa said, suddenly realizing that she was still leaning up against Rick's door as if blocking Betty's path. She stepped away from the door and took Betty's hand. “I just want you to know that regardless of what happens to Rick, you have nothing to worry about.” She would take care of Rick's secretary. The only person she planned on getting rid of was Rick. Leaving a confused Betty, she hurried to the elevator, stepping inside just as Betty opened her boss's door.

As the elevator doors closed, Lessa caught a glimpse of Rick. He was staring straight at her, and the look in his eyes gave her pause. It was not the look of a man who had just lost his job. It was a look of pity. Of regret.

But why would he feel sorry for her?

 

“That was odd,” Betty said as she walked into the room. “I wonder what she meant by that.”

Rick glanced at the stack of documents in her hand. “Is that my research?”

She nodded as she gave him the papers. “She said that no matter what happens to you, I don't have anything to worry about. Do you know what she was talking about?”

“I've just been fired,” he said casually, thumbing through the documents.

“What?” she exclaimed, the surprise registering on her lined features. “That can't be.”

“Alessandra has decided that she's ready to take over Lawrence Enterprises.”

“That's ridiculous. She's too young.”

“She's the same age her father was when he started the company.”

“But you
are
the company. If it wasn't for you, the stock would be worthless.”

“I don't think she realizes that. She feels that this is her rightful place. It was her father's company, therefore it's owed to her.”

Betty sank into a chair, stunned. He used the momentary silence to his advantage, quickly scanning the document. It was a list of all the companies that had purchased Lawrence Enterprises stock in the past two weeks. Alessandra's mismanagement had weakened the company and the stock value considerably. Gossip surrounding the tension in his relationship with the chairman of the board of Lawrence Enterprises had been circulating for months. Industry insiders knew that
Rick's departure would make the company a prime target for a takeover. And, from the evidence before him, several ambitious corporate vultures were already hungrily gobbling up stock.

As he glanced over the names of the buyers, several in particular stood out. They were all companies owned by a woman he'd once dated, Sabrina Vickers. Sabrina owned many different companies, each under a different name. And there was only one reason she would be buying so much stock under all those different names: She didn't want anyone to know what she was up to. Sabrina, it appeared, was planning a hostile takeover of Lawrence Enterprises.

He had no doubt that Alessandra had scoured over this very same data, looking for signs of exactly this. But there's no way she could've figured it out yet.

In a small voice, Betty said, “I assume I'll be next?”

“I thought she just told you not to worry,” he said.

“Don't worry? I've got two kids in college. I've worked here for the past thirty years. I can't imagine finding another job.” She breathed in deeply and said, “Two weeks before Christmas and she's firing people. It's not right. You're going to fight her on this, aren't you, Rick?”

“Alessandra Lawrence is not gunning for anyone else. Believe me, she could barely fire me.” He was an expert at reading his opponents. He had heard the hesitation in her voice and seen the anxiety in her eyes. At least, he thought, she had enough common sense to be frightened.

“Rick,” she said, leaning on his desk, “what are you going to do?”

He glanced up, meeting her eyes directly. “Abso
lutely nothing. If Miss Lawrence wants this company, she's going to get it.”

“But I thought you said I didn't have anything to worry about? We all know what's going to happen with her in charge. The stock's been plummeting ever since she became chairman of the board.”

“I assume Alessandra thinks that it will all blow over once she proves herself.”

“By the time she figures out what she's doing, there won't be any company left.” Betty shook her head. “To think I knew her when she was just a girl. I remember her father bringing her to work. He was so proud of her. She was a big tennis player, remember?”

“Not really.”

“She won the NCAA and a bunch of other competitions. Her matches were even on TV a couple times. We all thought she was going to turn pro. She was a nice girl, always so quiet and polite. She had such a crush on you back then. She used to hang around that drinking fountain right outside your office. You have to remember that, don't you?”

“I think you're mistaken, Betty.” His memory of Howard Lawrence's daughter back from those days was foggy at best. The Alessandra Lawrence of today was a beautiful woman, with long, curly red hair and sparkling green eyes. He remembered when he'd first laid eyes on her after not seeing her for years. He'd had no idea who she was and couldn't help but feel an immediate attraction. She'd been dressed conservatively in a fitted green suit that outlined her lithe figure. His attraction for her had dimmed when he'd discovered that the office visitor was none other than Alessandra Lawrence. Even if
she weren't the most insufferable woman he had ever met, he would never get involved with her. He had no intention of having an affair with the largest shareholder.

“Who would think that she would come back and destroy us all?” Betty shook her head.

“Let's not get carried away. The fight is hardly over. In fact, it's just beginning.” He grinned. “Now go grab your briefcase. We're going to move operations to my apartment for a while.”

After Betty left, Rick began packing files. He had expected this moment for quite a while. Although he had hoped that, for her sake, Alessandra would change her mind, he was not surprised. She had made it clear she was out for revenge from the first moment she had come into her stock. At the time, he had paid little attention. He knew she was attempting to get on the board, but he couldn't imagine the board would vote her on, much less hand her the chairmanship on a silver platter.

After all, what were her qualifications? A fancy degree and a couple of years experience at a rival firm. But the board had been sympathetic to her cause. She wanted to run the company her deceased parents had begun.

Unfortunately, everyone was overlooking the fact that it had not been Howard Lawrence's company for a very long time. It was Rick's blood and sweat that had made the company into what it was today. When he'd first started working at Lawrence, it had been a small firm, desperately in need of change. The woman he loved and planned to marry had just died, and Lawrence Enterprises offered him a chance to travel the world. For the first few months he functioned on automatic, working to escape his pain. And every time he returned to
New York, he couldn't wait to escape once more. He worked twenty hours a day. One month he'd be in South America, the next in Asia.

But his newfound peace was short-lived. Howard Lawrence soon took the company public and the new board was concerned that he was not capable of taking it to the next level. When they first approached Rick about taking it over, he was hesitant. He knew how much the company meant to his boss. But, as they reminded him, they had already made their decision. Howard Lawrence was out. Rick had assumed the presidency and all the trials and tribulations that came with it. He had paid a steep price, devoting one hundred percent of his time and energy to making it a success.

BOOK: Mistletoe Maneuvers
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