Winning a one hundred million
dollar ad campaign. Now that would be one hell of a Christmas present.
Adam Terrell, CEO of Maxximum
Advertising, pressed the button to disconnect his call, rose from his chair
behind his curved granite desk, and barely refrained from indulging in
an undignified end-zone type victory dance.
The chance for Maxximum to
represent ARC Software in its new ad campaign--definitely not a bad way
to start off the day. The account wasn’t yet in the bag, but as he’d
just learned during his phone conversation with Jack Witherspoon, ARC’s
CEO, Maxximum was on the short list of agencies being considered.
“And it’s my job to
make sure Maxximum is the only agency left on that list,” Adam murmured
Unable to remain still,
he crossed the wide expanse of pale blue carpet to stare down at the busy
street below from the vantage point of his tenth-floor, Madison Avenue
office. Pedestrians, their collars pulled up against the blustery
winter cold and lingering snow flurries, trudged along the busy Manhattan
street, many laden down with colorful holiday shopping bags, vaguely reminding
Adam that only ten days remained before Christmas. No doubt what
he wanted sitting under his tree--a contract with Jack Witherspoon’s signature.
But since Maxximum wasn’t
the only firm vying for the account, he needed an edge. Something to make
Maxximum stand out. And unfortunately he didn’t have much time.
Witherspoon wanted an ad campaign in place before his next shareholder’s
meeting. Adam needed his best and brightest on this.
Two names instantly popped
into his head. Matt Davidson and Jillian Taylor. Both openly
ambitious, exceptionally talented and creative, and able to focus on their
jobs with single-minded concentration and determination. And both
were highly competitive--most often with each other. They circled
each other like two wary fighters in the ring, viewing each other as the
enemy, and had done so since Matt joined Maxximum a year ago and promptly
landed prestigious Strattford Furniture--an account Jilly had been courting
for several weeks. The gauntlet had been thrown, and over the past
year, Adam had watched with calculated interest how Jilly and Matt constantly
tried to outdo each other. Sure, their rivalry brought tension to
the office, but who cared? It also brought results, with Maxximum
the big winner. If Jilly couldn’t bring in a particular client, then
Matt could, and visa versa.
“Jilly and Matt,” he mused.
“Yeah...” If he sent them both after ARC, no doubt one of them would
land the account. And if there was one thing Adam liked, especially
where hundred million dollar accounts were concerned, it was a sure thing.
Of course, Jilly and Matt
wouldn’t like it. Last summer Adam had purposely pitted them against
each other for the Lone Star Steaks account, certain that one of them would
win it for Maxximum. And Jilly had, with a brilliant campaign, fired
by her determination to beat her nemesis.
Adam had shrugged off their
displeasure at his tactics. Sure, it was devious. But the only
way to survive in the cutthroat world of advertising was to wield a sharper
machete than the next guy. He sure as hell hadn’t built Maxximum
from a start-up company to one of the best ad agencies in New York in under
ten years without shedding a little blood. But, if Jilly and Matt didn’t
realize they’d been pitted against each other again until it was too late...
One corner of Adam’s mouth
lifted. Crossing to his desk, he picked up the phone.
A little bit more blood was
about to be shed.
Matt Davidson exited Adam Terrel’s office, closed the heavy oak door behind him and awarded himself
a mental high five. Yes! He’d waited a long time for
a chance like this, and he had every confidence in his creative ability
to land the ARC account. Goodbye, cubicle—-hellooo multi-windowed
corner office. And hellooo promotion, raise, bonus, and perks,
His mind already buzzing
with ideas, he made his way toward Adam’s secretary, Debra’s desk.
Per Adam’s instructions, Matt needed to get Maxximum’s travel agent’s number
from Debra, then book himself a room at Chateau Fontaine for this weekend.
Adam had already arranged a suite for Jack Witherspoon at the Chateau--one
of Long Island’s most exclusive resorts, built on the property of the Fontaine
Winery--the perfect place to schmooze wine aficionado Jack. Jack
had even cleared his calendar for Monday, affording Matt an extra day to
reel in his fish. Between the winery, the five-star restaurant, wine
tastings, cigar bar, spa, indoor pool, and luxurious rooms, Matt didn’t
doubt for a minute that ARC would sign with Maxximum.
When he arrived at Debra’s
desk, the secretary was on a call. She smiled, held up her index
finger to indicate she’d only be a minute, then returned her attention
to her computer screen. Matt nodded and leaned his back against the
white marble pillar near Debra’s desk. A cheerful holiday song telling
of a winter wonderland filtered softly from the recessed stereo speakers,
and casting his gaze around, he noted blink of twinkling lights adorning
the six-foot Christmas tree in the corner near the bank of windows, a colorful
reminder that time was running short to complete his Christmas shopping.
He still needed to pick up a DVD player for his sister and brother-in-law
and few stocking stuffers, but at least the Barbie Dream Mansion for his
niece and the surprise he’d spent weeks planning for Mom and Dad were done
deals. God knows his parents deserved something special after what
they’d recently weathered. Mom’s test results were expected this
weekend--hopefully the news would be good and the dark cloud of worry that
had hung over the entire family for these past weeks would disappear.
He refused to consider any other alternative. Yup, this was going
to be a great Christmas. Certainly better than last year...
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Debra’s voice pulled him from his reverie. Her blue-eyed gaze glided
over him in a slow, top to bottom ogle--an ogle he pretended not to notice.
Probably he should have been flattered by her obvious interest, but in
spite of the fact that Debra was attractive and smart, she didn’t kindle
the least reaction in him, which was just as well. Even if her flirtations
had set him on fire, he’d squash any budding desire like a pesky insect.
He’d learned the hard way not to fish off the company pier, and it was
a lesson he had no intention of suffering through again.
“What can I do for you, Matt?”
She pursed her full lips and gave him a look that clearly indicated she’d
be happy to do anything he wanted.
He offered her an easy smile,
making sure he was merely polite and not overly friendly. “I need
the number for the corporate travel agent.”
“Sure.” She flipped
through her Rolodex, copied the information onto a sticky note, then handed
it to him. “Several of us are going to Little Italy for dinner at
Carmine’s after work tonight,” she said in a suggestive murmur that made
it sound more like they were going to a porno flick. “Would you like
Oh boy. Keeping his
expression bland, he shook his head. “Thanks, but I already have
Probably he should say yes--with my fiancée
and put an end to her interest, but he no longer had a fiancée,
and he didn’t like to lie. About anything. After having been
the victim of painful lies, he hated being lied to--and that being the
case, his conscience balked at telling untruths. Besides, his dad
had always told him if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
“Thanks to a deadline, a
date with my computer, working up some new ideas,” he said.
She waggled a glossy-nailed
finger at him. “You know what they say about all work and no play,
“Yup. That’s me.
A dull boy. Burning the midnight oil.” Which was the gospel
truth. Since today was Thursday, and he’d be leaving for Chateau
Fontaine after work tomorrow, that didn’t leave him much time to gather
his thoughts and pull together a knock-out presentation. He’d probably
be pulling an all-nighter. Not that he had anything better to do.
Ever since his breakup with Tricia last Christmas, his social life had
flatlined. But that was okay by him. Work was a lot safer and
helluva lot less trouble than women.
A movement in his peripheral
vision caught his eye and he turned, then barely suppressed a groan.
Speaking of trouble and women, Jillian Taylor, the worst of both those
worlds was making her way down the hallway, heading in his direction.
As usual, her dark hair was pulled back into a severe, neat, reserved chignon.
In fact, everything about her screamed severe, neat and reserved.
Her hairstyle, her discreet makeup, her tailored suit.
Today she wore brown pinstripe,
double-breasted, with slim pants and shoes that looked like high-heeled
tassel loafers. A “don’t mess with me” aura surrounded her like an
inter-galactic force field. Thanks to his experience with Tricia,
he recognized Jilly’s type only too well--reserved exterior hiding cold,
competitive, ambitious interior, and lookin’ out for numero uno.
From his first day Maxximum, he’d realized she could mess him up the same
way Tricia had, and he’d therefore pegged Jilly Taylor as the one to beat.
Public enemy number one.
Even though he firmly kept
himself out of the office gossip loop, he wasn’t deaf, and on several occasions
in the break room he’d heard male co-workers refer to Jilly as the Freeze
Queen--a full rank up from the mere Ice Princess he’d mentally dubbed her.
The few times he’d found himself wondering if her office nickname was directed
at something more personal than her aloof demeanor, he’d banished the thought
to the Siberia of his subconscious. Sure, she didn’t exude warm fuzzies,
but who needed that? Not him. Been there, done that, have
the scars from the knife in my back to prove it.
An image of Tricia flashed
through his mind--Tricia with her sultry blue eyes, come-hither smile,
and promises of love. Annoyed that he’d allowed his former fiancée
to enter his thoughts at all, he firmly pushed aside the memory, relieved
that it now only brought irritation rather than the gut-twisting sense
of betrayal it once had. But it was it was hard not to have thoughts
of her sneak into his mind whenever Jilly Taylor was around, raising his
“Danger Approaching!” radar, since Jilly and Tricia were so clearly cast
from the same mold. Oh, they didn’t look anything alike--Tricia was
blond and petite and favored more feminine styles in contrast to Jilly’s
dark coloring and tailored suits. But they were both smart and talented--and
very, very ambitious. Just the sort of co-worker who should come
with a warning sign tattooed on their forehead.
He narrowed his eyes, watching
Jilly pause to exchange a brief word with someone. Then she walked
toward him once again, her head down as she studied the papers she held.
Even from a distance, Matt could see that her lips were pursed in concentration,
and that her brows were bunched in a frown. She walked with a brisk,
no-nonsense stride, her black, slim rectangular frame glasses perched on
Yes, she was the epitome
of professional competence, and as much as he hated to admit it, she was
immensely talented. She’d started working at the agency the year
before him, and they were both on the fast track to promotion. But
after I land ARC, you’ll be left in the dust, Jilly.
Something that felt suspiciously
like his conscience pricked him, but he firmly swatted the feeling aside.
It was every man for himself in this business.
As Jillian neared Debra’s
desk, she glanced up from her papers. Her gaze riveted on him, and
her steps slowed. Her expression remained coolly professional, but
he’d caught that flash in her eyes, the one clearly indicating she wasn’t
thrilled to see him. He bit back a smile at that slight ruffling
of her always-in-place feathers. Some perverse part of him enjoyed
rocking her boat and engaging in their verbal sparrings. What it
would take to really break through that professional veneer and get her
fired up and out of sorts?
He’d expected her to march
right on by, but she surprised him by stopping. Matt inhaled and
caught a whiff of the elusive scent he’d noticed the first time he’d sat
next to her in the conference room. As always, Jillian Taylor smelled
fresh and clean--like clothes that had dried outdoors in the spring sunshine.
Since it was winter, it couldn’t be her clothing that smelled that way.
Must be something they used at her dry cleaners. Either that or the
Ice Princess had discovered a fragrance called Clean Laundry.
“Debra, Matt,” she murmured
in a voice that somehow managed to sound both smooth and a bit just-got-out-of-bed
husky. She looked at him over the top edge of her glasses.
“Nice job with the Heavenly Chocolate account. Very clever, fresh,
He searched for a sign of
insincerity in her expression or voice, but found none. Man, she
was good. “Thank you. It was a ‘sweet’ deal.”
Her lips didn’t so much as
twitch. “Of course, I would have given you a run for your money if
I hadn’t been laid low with the flu.”
“I know you would have.
But I still would have been the one to bring in the account.”
“I’m sure you like to tell
He smiled. “Well, I’m
glad you’re feeling better.”
She smiled back. “I’m
sure you like to tell yourself that as well. How are you doing on
the Fabulous Feline Food account?”
“Fantastic. But you
know me--I’m a creative magnet. I’m like catnip.”
“Hmmm. I think I feel
a hairball coming up.” She turned to Debra, effectively dismissing
him as if she were the Queen of England and he a lowly footman. “Is
Debra nodded. “He’s
With a nod at both of them,
she strode down the corridor, then knocked on Adam’s door. Seconds
later she disappeared into the office, closing the door behind her.
Matt’s competitive and suspicious
instincts kicked into gear. What sort of meeting were the two of
“Well, now I understand,”
Debra said, pulling his attention back.
He looked at her, and the
speculation gleaming in her eyes triggered his male “uh oh” gland.
“Why you haven’t picked up
on any of the signals I’ve sent your way. Your receptors are all
clogged up.” Her gaze shifted pointedly toward the door where Jilly
had just disappeared. “I saw those sparks between you.”
An incredulous laugh escaped
him. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”
She hiked a skeptical brow.
“I know sparks when I see them.”
“Well, if you saw sparks,
they definitely weren’t those kind of sparks. More like sparks
“Doesn’t matter,” Debra said,
with a knowing gleam in her eye. “Any kind of sparks can start a