A Very Exclusive Engagement(4)

By: Andrea Laurence

Francesca might take after her mother in most things, but her father had made his mark, as well. Victor Orr had come from poor beginnings and raised his two daughters not only to be grateful for what they had, but also to give to the less fortunate. All through high school, Francesca had volunteered at a soup kitchen on Saturdays. She’d organized charity canned food collections and blood drives at school. After college, her father helped her get an entry level job at ANS, where he was the largest minority stockholder. It hadn’t taken long for her to work her way up to the head of community outreach. And she’d been good at it. Graham had never had room to complain about her doing anything less than a stellar job.

But it always came down to money. When things got tight, her budget was always the first to get cut. Why not eliminate some of the cushy corporate perks? Maybe slash the travel budget and force people to hold more teleconferences? Or cut back on the half gallon of hair gel the head anchor used each night for the evening news broadcast?

“I don’t want to hack up your department,” Liam said. “What you do is important for ANS and for the community. But I need a little give and take here. Everyone needs to tighten their belts. Not just you. But I need you to play along, too. It’s hard enough to come into the leadership position of a company that’s doing well, much less one like ANS. I’m going to do everything I can to get this network back on top, but I need everyone’s support.”

Francesca could hear the sincerity in his words. He did care about the company and its employees. They just didn’t see eye to eye quite yet on what to do about it. She could convince him to see things her way eventually. She just had to take a page from her mother’s playbook. It would take time and perhaps a softer hand than she had used with Graham. At least Liam seemed reasonable about it. That won him some points in her book. “Okay.”

Liam looked at her for a moment, surveying her face as though he almost didn’t believe his ears. Then he nodded. They stood silently in the elevator for a moment before Liam started shrugging out of his black suit coat. He tossed the expensive jacket to the ground and followed it with his silk tie. He unbuttoned his collar and took a deep breath, as if he had been unable to do it until then. “I’m glad we’ve called a truce because it’s gotten too warm in here for me to fight anymore. Of course this had to happen on one of the hottest days of the year.”

He was right. The air conditioning was off and it was in the high nineties today, which was unheard of in early May. The longer they sat in the elevator without air, the higher the temperature climbed.

Following his example, Francesca slipped out of her blazer, leaving her in a black silk and lace camisole and pencil skirt. Thank goodness she’d opted out of stockings today.

Kicking off her heels, she spread out her coat on the floor and sat down on it. She couldn’t stand there in those pointy-toed stilettos any longer, and she’d given up hope for any immediate rescue. If they were going to be trapped in here for a while, she was going to be comfortable.

“I wish this had happened after lunch. Those bagels in the conference room burned off a long time ago.”

Francesca knew exactly what he meant. She hadn’t eaten since this morning. She’d had a cappuccino and a sweet cornetto before she’d left her hotel room, neither of which lasted very long. She typically ate a late lunch, so luckily she carried a few snacks in her purse.

Using the light of her phone, she started digging around in her bag. She found a granola bar, a pack of Gocciole Italian breakfast cookies and a bottle of water. “I have a few snacks with me. The question is whether we eat them now and hope we get let out soon, or whether we save them. It could be hours if it’s a major blackout.”

Liam slipped down to the floor across from her. “Now. Definitely now.”

“You wouldn’t last ten minutes on one of those survival reality shows.”

“That’s why I produce them and don’t star in them. My idea of roughing it is having to eat in Times Square with the tourists. What do you have?”

“A peanut butter granola bar and some little Italian cookies. We can share the water.”

“Which is your favorite?”

“I like the cookies. They’re the kind my grandmother would feed me for breakfast when I stayed with her. They don’t eat eggs or meat for breakfast like Americans do. It was one of the best parts of visiting her—cake and cookies for breakfast.”

Liam grinned, and Francesca realized it was the first time she’d seen him smile. It was a shame. He had a beautiful smile that lit up his whole face. It seemed more natural than the serious expression he’d worn all day, as though he were normally a more carefree and relaxed kind of guy. The pressure of buying ANS must have been getting to him. He’d been all business this morning and her behavior certainly didn’t help.