Trouble in a Tight Dress(8)

By: Lori Sjoberg

So she sucked it up, straightened her spine, and plastered a smile on her face. She wasn’t sure what to say. Normally, they traded sarcastic remarks, but it just didn’t seem suitable for the situation. In the end, she settled on a simple, “Thank you. Is there anything else?”

Judging by his expression, he seemed a little off-kilter as well, which made her feel better. He straightened and dragged a hand through his hair again. “Uh…no. I just wanted to clear the air. Larissa should be here in about an hour. If you see her before I do, could you fill her in on the tablet?”

“Sure, no problem.”

As she watched him leave, her heart tightened in her chest, and she felt as though she’d just missed out on something special.

Chapter Three

FOR THE NEXT few days, Austin steered clear of Nina, keeping himself busy with clients so he wouldn’t do anything stupid, like march into her office and kiss her senseless. The thought crossed his mind at least a dozen times a day, and each time he found it harder and harder to resist the growing temptation.

Clearly, too much time had passed since he’d last gotten laid. It was the only possible explanation for why he couldn’t get her out of his mind. How long had it been? A month? Two? He honestly couldn’t say for sure. With the business growing by leaps and bounds, he barely had enough free time to do much more than eat and sleep.

Shoving the thought from his mind, he shifted his attention to the security nightmare he’d been asked to evaluate.

“So what do you think?” Wayne Fenton, the vice president of Harcourt Industries, asked. He was a tall, stocky guy with a thin, receding hairline and jowly cheeks that made him resemble a bloodhound. The brown suit he wore looked new and expensive, and his shoes had been shined to within an inch of their lives.

Austin paused to give the building one last quick appraisal. Personally, he thought the place needed to be razed and rebuilt from the ground up. The plant was built in the 1960s for the purpose of processing orange juice, but Harcourt wanted to use the facility to manufacture and warehouse cell phone components. The main building was massive, with rows of conveyor belts and tons of equipment designed to reduce oranges into concentrate. Once the process was complete, the concentrate was stored in the cryogenic tanks in the adjacent building until they were ready to be shipped in bulk by train to a bottling facility.

It was an efficient setup. For oranges. But for electronics? Not so much.

“What are you going to do with all this equipment?” Austin asked.

“Probably sell it for scrap.”

“And the groves?” The plant was surrounded by two hundred acres of dead or dying orange trees, most of them choked with underbrush and weeds. One carefully placed match, and the whole grove could go up in flames.

“I don’t know.” Fenton shrugged. He used one finger to push his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “We’ll probably leave them alone until we figure out what to do with them.”

Austin had a bad feeling he was going to say that. “Aside from being a fire hazard, all that dense vegetation could be used as cover for anyone wanting to break into the buildings. You might want to consider leveling it and turning it into a field. If you want, I can put you in touch with a guy who does that kind of work.”

The side door swung open and Ryan stepped inside, a tablet in his left hand. He and Nate had been surveying the grounds and other buildings so they could get a clear picture of exactly what needed to be done in terms of security.

“All set?” Austin asked his brother, and Ryan nodded.

“Nate’s packing up the equipment.”

Austin turned his attention back to Fenton and extended his hand. “Thank you for the opportunity to assess your security. I’ll be in touch with a quote within the next twenty-four hours.”

After a quick round of handshakes and good-byes, Austin and his brothers piled into the company SUV. No one spoke until they turned onto the main road.

“Man, what a dump,” Nate said from the backseat. “If we get a hurricane, that building is toast.”

Ryan nodded in agreement as he reached over to change the radio station. “Did you get a look at the storage shed? It was like something out of a horror movie. And I’m pretty sure I saw a homeless camp in the groves.”

Austin didn’t say anything while he mulled it over in his mind. He hooked a left onto the old county road that led back to the interstate. “It doesn’t make sense. Why buy a plant that’s about to fall down to make state-of-the-art electronic equipment? It’s going to cost a small fortune just to bring the place up to code.”

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