Once in a while I babble about my WIPs. Today is one of those days. 🙂 I’m deep into editing Shadow Cat and hope to finish by the end of the month. In the meantime, I’m offing you a bit of a teaser. If you haven’t read chapter 1, have at it here. Today, I give you Chapter 2:
New York City
Three weeks later
Erickson Randall froze as the words on the menu turned into meaningless letters. Surely he’d misunderstood his assistant.
“Eric, did you hear me?” Bryan Hayes asked above the low drone of diners laughing and talking in the background. “I said they also lost the permits.”
The muscles in Eric’s jaws tightened. Lost the permits? Deported? He lowered the menu and released a controlled breath. “Everything is riding on this. The researchers were deported to Taiwan over a week ago, for Pete’s sake! And I’m just hearing about it now?”
The corners of Bryan’s mouth twitched in an uneasy smile. “Look, we can fix this. I have a few contacts…”
Bryan’s voice blended into the steady drone of the other patrons. On and on he rambled, each syllable jabbing like a stick prodding an open wound. Eric closed his eyes, trying to focus on a way out of the mess, but a single word continued to crop into his head: Failure. It was just a matter of time before everything his grandfather worked to achieve crumbled to dust.
“…Perhaps they’ll reinstate the research permits,” Bryan continued. “I can—“
“We can’t afford setbacks. Not with pharmaceutical sales going down the crapper. Hell! Nora Tech has already lost a shitload of money this year. This can’t be happening.” If Eric could reach through time and space and strangle those researchers, he would. No one in their right minds would clear a section of the rainforest without proper authorization. No one! And the ramifications. Holy hell! “The stockholders will have a field day if the money we’ve spent getting those scientist into Malaysia goes down the drain. Shit… William will be all over this.”
Bryan rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why you worry so much. The board voted you in, not him. Besides, William Fitzgerald is an idiot. I don’t think I’ve heard one intelligent word come out of his trap.” Arms crossed, he settled deeper in his chair. “Anyway, your grandfather founded Nora Tech.”
“You’re joking, right?” Eric gave a half laugh. “The stockholders don’t care about my personal business; they care about making money.” He muddled through his options and came up with only one lame-ass solution. And he couldn’t even claim it fully as his own. Leaning forward, he clasped his hands together and planted his elbows on the table. “Whatever you’ve got planned for the week, drop it. It’ll have to wait. This is what’s going to happen, Mr. ‘I’ve got connections’. You are going to book yourself a plane to Malaysia and talk the government into giving us back those permits. I want you on the first flight tomorrow morning. Got it?”
“Yeah. Sure. I’m on it, boss.”
Eric frowned at the nonchalance on his assistant’s face. “Boss? Are you being sarcastic?”
Bryan’s lips twitched into a smile.
Eric couldn’t help but return it. “Is everything fun and games with you? Serves me right for hiring a college roomie. You were a crackpot then. And you’re a crackpot now. What was I thinking?”
Bryan broke into a full laugh. “You were thinking I was the best of the best. Don’t worry about the Malaysia thing. I’ve got this.”
Eric looked his friend dead on. “I’m counting on it.”
“Here you go.” The waitress arrived with their drinks, sloshing liquid over the rim. “Sorry.” A smile quivered on her lips as she tucked a loose strand of blond hair behind her ear. “The first course includes a choice of—“
“Actually.” Bryan picked up his menu, and his eyes trailed down the fare. “I’ll start with the rack of lamb—rare, then the prime rib—also rare, and the cheeses for dessert.”
“Oh. Uh. Sir?” She walked behind Bryan and leaned over his shoulder. Using her pen, she tapped a staccato beat against the menu. “The rack of lamb isn’t a first course appetizer. It’s an entrée, along with the prime rib. You see?” The waitress turned her head, and her lips almost grazed Bryan’s cheek. A few flutters of her eyelashes, and she straightened, biting the side of her lip. She flushed a pretty shade of pink and returned to the front of the table, all the while following Bryan with her eyes.
Bryan closed his menu and handed it to her with his winning smile—the one which got him out of more trouble than Eric could remember. “Is there a problem with my order?”
“Uh… I…” She blinked. Her cheeks took on more color as she swallowed hard, scribbling on her pad. “No… I guess… I guess not.” Her dark brown eyes sparkled as she worried her bottom lip through a smiled and glanced at Eric. “And for you, sir?”
He hadn’t even decided yet. Damn Bryan and his news. He scratched his eyebrow and picked up the menu. “Uhm… how about the sea bass.…” Shit. Appetizer then entree. Why did Bryan order everything at once? “No… the risotto, sea bass, and uh… just bring the dessert menu around when we’re done. Okay?”
“Of course.” The waitress grinned at Bryan, already dismissing Eric. His blockhead friend gave her a wink, and she giggled like a silly schoolgirl.
“I’ll just take this.” She collected Eric’s menu and walked away with a spring in her step. She paused after a few feet and turned, pierced her lips together and blew an air kiss then disappeared around a corner. So much for fine dining and professionalism.
Eric shook his head. “Bryan… Bryan… Bryan.”
“What?” His friend reached under the table and pulled documents from his briefcase.
“Why do you have to make things so difficult?”
“What do you mean?” He laid half the stack of papers on the table and pushed them toward Eric.
Bryan shrugged, and a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “She said it was no problem.” Flipping through the sheets, his brows creased as he studied the pages, seriousness replacing the smugness.
Eric shook his head. His friend had no qualms about using looks to his advantage, unscrupulous about it really. His features were proportioned in a way women might find him attractive… if they were into boyish looks on a grown man, that was. He still had a full head of hair, a plus. Too bad the light brown color bordered on red which had earned him the nickname “redheaded stepchild” on the college wrestling team. Of course on the mat, he’d had a way of getting them to call him ‘uncle.’ And those funky hazel eyes. How Bryan, part Malay, ended up with that hair and pale greenish-orange eyes was a mystery. The only thing he really had going for him was height. At six-four, he had a full inch on Eric.
“But Bryan, two entrées?”
“I need the protein. What are you worried about? We’ll burn it off in karate tonight.” All through college Bryan had been an even match for Eric on the wrestling team. Likewise, he made an equally impressive Jeet Kune Do sparring partner. Bryan patted the stack of papers he’d set on the table. “Will you look at those?”
Eric picked up the pile. “What am I looking at?”
“Great. My favorite,” he said under his breath and sifted through them. “I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
Bryan reached across the table and pulled the papers down. “You need to suggest cuts at the meeting tomorrow.”
“Couldn’t this have waited until after we ate? You really know how to ruin a meal.”
Bryan shuffled through his own copies. “Page three, item four.”
Eric flipped through and found the number—The Norabelle Randall Foundation ($10M—Scholarships). “Okay, what about it?”
“Maybe cut that in half or even down to a million… perhaps a full ride to just five select candidates.”
“You’re crazy.” He flung the papers on the table. “You want to cut costs by scrapping the foundation my grandfather established in honor of my grandmother?”
“It’s not like that. I’m not saying to cut it entirely… just… cut back a little until the company is doing better.”
“Forget it. We’ll find another way.”
Bryan crossed his arms, crushing papers under his bicep. “Where?”
“I don’t know.” Eric snatched the top sheet, wrinkling the edge in his fist.
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit obsessive?”
“No!” Eric slammed his fist on the table, and the drinks sloshed, adding to the stains on the white linen. He leaned forward and tried to keep his voice controlled. “I will not dishonor my grandparents’ memories by trashing the things that meant the most to them.”
Of all the people, Bryan should understand—he’d gotten through college on a scholarship. Eric closed his eyes and pressed his fist to his forehead as he concentrated on calming his breathing. One. Two. Three. Four— Who the hell came up with the count-to-ten crap anyway? It didn’t do shit. He opened his eyes to find Bryan staring, mouth dangling open. Sweeping his gaze around the room, he found the rapt attention of almost every patron in the restaurant on him. Shit.
“Okay.” Eric flattened the crumbled paper on the table, avoiding the curious glances of the other diners. “Let’s go over this line by line. There’s got to be something else.” He grabbed his drink and swirled it under his nose before downing it in one gulp. The slight burn of the scotch trailed down his throat and momentarily distracted him from the stresses at hand. He closed his eyes and relaxed as the smoky finish saturated his senses—a respite in the chaos.
“Well, well, well… look what we have here.” Bryan’s voice pulled him out of the moment. The lazy smile on his friend’s face had Eric twisting in his chair to see what was worthy of so much attention.
A woman. Just like Bryan to let a pretty face sidetrack him from business. With her back to them, she allowed a slight, grey-haired man help remove her coat. Free of the heavy faux fur, she ran her hand up the back of her neck and under her hair, letting the auburn mane cascade in waves over her shoulder.
Eric frowned as he tried to place the vaguely familiar figure then smiled as recognition hit him. “Is that Angelica?”
“You better believe it,” Bryan said.
The man with her passed the coat to the attendant before addressing the maître d. Eric would know that face anywhere—William Fitzgerald.
“Speak of the devil.” Eric turned back to Bryan. “Could things get any worse?”
Bryan smirked. “Now that you mention it, they’re heading this way.”
“Great.” Eric struggled to keep a straight face as the heavy stench of cologne invaded every molecule of his personal bubble and announced William’s impending arrival.
“Fancy meeting you here.” William sneered down his nose, flaring nostrils with hairs sorely in need of clipping. Fitzgerald was of old money and played every bit the part. Only the best for him, the custom-tailored Logsdail suit said it all. If he only knew his salt and pepper hair, slicked back with oil, emphasized his ever-thinning hairline. Old money? Yes. But sleazeball, nonetheless.
Angelica linked an arm through William’s, scanning the table cluttered with papers. Her stiletto heels put her head to head with the old coot, though she couldn’t be taller than five-four barefoot. “I wish I had known you two would be here. Have you already eaten?”
William patted her hand, not turning his attention from Eric. “Angelica, surely they have personal business to discuss. Let’s not intrude.”
“Of course. You’re right, Daddy.” She winked at Eric. Her father, so focused, missed the gesture entirely, and Angelica’s mouth curled in a secret smile. Her red-painted lips glistened, adding the perfect contrast to her pale skin. The effect—naughty with just a hint of nice.
“Maybe next time,” Eric offered.
“I’ll hold you to that promise.” Angelica’s eyes sparkled mischievously as she walked away, sashaying her hips as she approached the head waiter standing at a discrete distance.
Eric’s gaze traveled up her legs and ended on her pert ass, her red dress enveloping it like a tight sleeve.
“I’ll see you at the meeting.” William glowered, his dull green eyes promising trouble.
Eric raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you always?”
“Humph.” William about faced and joined his daughter.
The host directed the Fitzgeralds to a table directly in Eric’s line of sight. The only upside was when Angelica took the seat facing him, leaving the one opposite for her father. Thank God for small favors. Looking at William’s ugly mug was the last thing he wanted to do while enjoying his meal.
Angelica caught Eric’s eyes. Smiling, she gave him a single-fingered wave and mouthed something to him. He squinted to catch it. Did she say, later?
“What was that all about?” Bryan’s voice broke his concentration.
Eric casually fiddled with the papers in front of him, musing over what ‘later’ might entail. “What are you talking about? You know how William is.”
“No, I mean Angelica.”
Eric jolted in his seat, his full attention on Bryan. “Huh? What?”
“I’m talking about that wink.”
Eric couldn’t help the smile that played on his lips. Sweet, delicious Angelica. He played with fire but had to admit, she was hot with her curvy figure and full breasts, such the daddy’s little girl in public, though anything but in the bedroom.
Bryan grinned. “Now, I definitely want to know what that look means.”
“Right.” Bryan twisted in his seat and stared in Angelica’s direction. “Sometimes it amazes me that William could produce a knockout like her.”
Eric grabbed his papers and turned to a random page. “We’re wasting time. What about this?” he asked, leaving the topic of Angelica behind.