Executive Perks

By: Angela Claire

Chapter One

Aaron Winston scanned the room dispassionately. The same old cast of characters. Many of them he knew by name, but the rest he knew by type—the preppie investment bankers; the anxious lawyers; the monotone accountants. Most were men, he noted absently. But the few women present fit their mold just as neatly as their professional brothers. Aaron’s attorney, Rye Kinsey, pushed his perpetually slipping glasses back up on his nose and ran one hand through his riot of light brown curls. The plush mahogany conference room in the offices of Rye’s firm, fifty-eight floors above the Manhattan skyline, buzzed quietly with the low level of activity that preceded the commencement of a business meeting. “And so I said to Tammy, what the hell do we need a slate roof for, for God’s sake? What am I, made of money?”

Aaron listened with half an ear. For all the fees he paid Rye, the guy could afford a slate roof for twenty houses. Perpetually claiming a rich man’s version of poverty was annoying. Aaron had known what it was like to be poor, really poor, in a way that nobody else in this room likely did. It made him distinctly unsympathetic to Rye’s discourse on married bliss with his wife Tammy, the errant spendthrift.

He stood up abruptly. “Is there a vending machine around here somewhere?’

“Why? I can have whatever you want brought in.”

“Just point me in the right direction. I want to exercise my legs before we get started.”

* * * * *

Virginia Beckett stretched, crossing her arms in an arc above her head, her long blonde hair swirling from side to side as she began to roll her neck from shoulder to shoulder. It was a futile attempt to rid herself of the tension that had lodged at the base of her neck from the moment Aaron Winston had come into her life.

For as long as she could remember, Virginia had assumed that she would take over Beckett Family Delicacies when her father retired and run it until she was ready to retire. Her father’s unexpected death had tragically sped up the process, but she certainly was not going to let Aaron Winston prematurely end it by swallowing her company. It wasn’t about wealth or security or even pride—it was about identity. She was the head of BFD first and anything else—even a woman—second.

Which might explain why she hadn’t had a date in God knew how long.

Virginia scanned the soda offerings in the cafeteria vending machine. Diet Coke being her particular poison, she slipped two dollars into the slot and made the selection.

She had agreed to meet Winston and his troop of lawyers ostensibly to get some indication of his intentions, not that she didn’t already know them. Nobody paid that kind of premium for a minority stake in an essentially private company. She fully expected to be screwed, Wall Street style, by one of the best corporate raiders in the business—unless she could figure a way to get him to back off. Making a pit-stop in the cafeteria while the rest of her entourage went directly to the conference room was just putting off the inevitable. She reached for the can of Diet Coke.

“I know we can come to an agreement.”

The deep voice behind her startled her and she dropped the can. When she turned around, she recognized Aaron Winston. From his words, he clearly recognized her as well.

He picked the can up from the polished linoleum floor. “I’d advise you not to open that for a while,” he said as he handed it to her. She noticed that his eyes were a very dark blue, an interesting contrast to his black hair. Although she had seen him at a function or two, across a crowded room, she had certainly never been this close to him and was momentarily distracted by the blue eyes, the long lashes.

She looked away. “You’re full of suggestions for me, aren’t you?”

His mouth slanted up, head cocking to one side, and he leaned a little toward her and smiled, teeth white against his faint tan. “You don’t know the half of them.”

The forwardness of it, given the context, annoyed her.

“Nor do I want to,” she answered stiffly. For all she knew, there might have even been a double-entendre in there somewhere, although maybe she was getting paranoid. “I agreed to meet you because I want to put an end to this nonsense. But I don’t intend to cut some kind a deal in the back alley, er, cafeteria, if that’s what you’re thinking. I don’t run my business that way.”

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