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Trusting Hearts - Chapter 1

Chapter 1 







“Yes, Jerry, everything is set up correctly. Bethany is just putting out the last of the gift bags, then we’ll be going to the hotel to check in.” Holly glanced around the massive room at the other stalls being set up for this year’s advertising conference and decided hers looked the best out of what she had seen so far. Her boss, Jerry from Heralds Advertising, was still chatting in her ear, explaining how to tackle and secure the most difficult of clients, but this was second nature. She had been in the advertising world for years.


As Jerry waffled on, a striking redhead caught her attention. She was setting up a stall three units down and talking to a middle-aged woman. Holly could not help but admire the smooth skin of the redhead’s legs below her black skirt. Her eyes travelled back up the tight, curvy body and locked on to the woman’s deep chocolate pair of eyes. Holly smiled and was instantaneously aroused when the woman smiled back.


“Yeah, okay, Jerry, I got to go.” She hung up with the intent of going over and talking to the woman, but Bethany stopped her to ask a question. When she looked back, the woman was gone. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath, thinking it was probably for the best that she didn’t go over and make a fool of herself. She focused on Bethany’s problem with organising the gift bags.


Over the next two days, Holly kept noticing the woman. It seemed that every time she looked up, the redhead glanced her way. She was definitely interested, and Holly hoped she could find it within herself to at least try to strike up a conversation.


But she never had the chance. She was soon swamped with work, acquiring new clients and schmoozing the best she knew how, so she pushed thoughts of the auburn-haired woman from her mind. Now was not the time to be thinking about having fun anyway. She had to secure the top contracts this weekend and daydreaming about sex was not the way to go about it.


Near the end of the two-day event, Holly felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around and was pleasantly surprised to see the redhead standing in front of her.


“Hello. My name is Carrie Stedman.”


“Hi. Holly Fletcher.” She stuck out her hand and a thrill ran up her spine when Carrie’s hand touched hers. “It’s nice to meet you.”


“You too.”


A brief silence filled the air and Holly was amused at how nervous Carrie appeared, shifting from foot to foot.


“So how did your weekend go?” Holly asked. “I noticed you drew quite a crowd at times.”


“It was good. My boss gave me strict instructions to not come back to the office without at least three major clients.”


“Yeah, I know how that feels. My boss is the same. So, you work for Peters and Michaels?”


“Yes. I’m a senior partner.”


“I’ve heard of them. They do good work.”


“Thank you.”


Another silence fell between them. Holly was about to ask if Carrie wanted to grab a drink somewhere when Carrie was called away by the middle-aged woman Holly had seen on the first day.


“I’ve got to go. It was nice meeting you.” Carrie smiled sweetly, a blush gracing her cheeks, then quickly turned on her heels and strode away.


Damn. Opportunity wasted! Holly thought, slowly shaking her head. She turned back to her tables and began packing up, hoping she would get another chance to talk to Carrie Stedman sometime soon.


Chapter One


“Please tell me you’re joking.” Frustrated, Carrie ran her hands through her shoulder-length auburn hair.


Norman Peters, her boss, shook his balding, round head, his piercing stare never leaving hers.


“But she’s the reason we lost the Delaney account. She’s underhanded, Norman. She doesn’t care about anything except winning clients.”


“I know, and that’s why I want her working for me.” He threw his thick hands in the air. “Just think of how much money we can make.” A wide smile filled his chubby red face.


She pushed out of the black leather guest chair that sat opposite Norman’s huge mahogany desk, stood, and began pacing the substantial office. “I don’t like this, Norman.” She shook her head. “She made me look like a fool in front of our biggest client, and now you want to employ her?”


“Yes, Carrie, I do.”


She stopped pacing and faced him. His icy blue eyes pinned her where she stood. As he adjusted his dark grey tie, she was certain she was not going to like what was coming next.


“I want you to show her the ropes. Show her how we do things here—”


She held her hands up. “No! No, you can’t possibly expect me to do that.”


“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” Norman stood and leaned forward on his desk. “If you want to continue working here, you will meet with Holly Fletcher and make her feel welcome.”


Carrie studied him for a few moments, making sure he was serious. Judging by his pointed expression, he was. She let out a grunt and put her hands on her waist, gripping hard as she decided that hitting the boss was not a clever way to keep her job. “Fine, I’ll do it.” She pointed a finger at him. “But one word from her about Delaney and I’m gone.”


“Look, I know this is hard for you after all the hard work you put into that account, but we need her. I’m hoping she can convince Delaney to use us again.”


Her mouth dropped open and heat flamed her cheeks. Her anger always rose when she thought about the woman who’d stolen some of her best ideas. She spent twelve months working with Roger Delaney to create the perfect advertising campaign for his golf-and-leisure franchise. However, as soon as it neared completion, Holly Fletcher from Heralds Advertising stole the account from her. Now Roger seemed to be on his way back to Peters and Michaels and she wondered why. After all, he apparently had gotten a better deal at Heralds.


“Roger Delaney has no backbone, Norman. He dumped us for a cheaper price and along with Holly took my ideas, and now you want him back as a client? I don’t fucking believe this.” She gripped her hips tightly and squared her shoulders, not sure if she could stop herself from lunging across the desk and knocking some sense into him.


“I know he’s a two-faced arsehole, but he was also our biggest asset. We need him to come back.”


Carrie blew out a breath, then slumped back into the chair. Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on her knees. “So just to make a few more quid, we’re going to sell our souls?”


Norman relaxed back into his chair. “We can make this work. I know we can. You’re my best liaison officer; your ideas are like gold. Thomas was right when he recommended you for this job.” She smiled at the mention of her now-deceased foster father. He had been Norman’s best friend and it was his friendship with Norman that got her a placement here.


His face softened. “I can’t do this without you.”


She looked at him carefully, searching for any sign of subterfuge. Norman had a habit of manipulating her to do his bidding, and although most of the time she didn’t mind, she didn’t think she could deal with Holly Fletcher with her normal grace and flair. Satisfied he was being sincere, she decided to go against her better judgement and said, “Okay, I’ll show her around, but I don’t want to be working on any projects with her.” She fixed him with a stare of her own.


“Thank you.”


Without another word to her boss of sixteen years, she turned and headed out of his office. She hurried to the lift, then pressed the Call button with more force than necessary, tapping her foot as she waited impatiently for the carriage to arrive.


“You look pissed off. Buy you a drink?”


She hadn’t heard Stella walk up behind her and closed her eyes to prevent Stella seeing the eye roll she couldn’t help but do. “Hey, Stella. How are you doing?”


Stella was a mistake she never wanted to repeat. Everyone has stories of make-out sessions with colleagues at the annual Christmas office party, but Carrie did one better and had a full-blown fuck fest with Stella. After Holly stole the Delaney account from her, Stella had reverted to the self-destructive behaviour she thought she left behind, and six weeks after being gazumped, she took Stella up on her offer of sex in the supply cupboard. It was something she felt great shame over and had no desire to repeat.


“I’m fine, darlin’,” Stella purred into her ear. “But as I said, you don’t look too good.”


Carrie stared into Stella’s eyes and wondered what had ever possessed her to seek solace in them. They were dark and unemotional. Stella’s black trouser suit matched them perfectly.


“I just found out the bitch who stole the Delaney account from me is coming here to work.” Her body still vibrated from the encounter with her boss.


The lift arrived, and they stepped inside. As soon as the door closed, Stella stepped into her space, placing her hand possessively on Carrie’s waist. She leaned in close with hot breath whispering on Carrie’s cheek, “Well how ‘bout we see if I can ease some of that tension.”


Carrie shook her head at Stella’s blatant try at a rematch. One time with her was more than enough to ruin one-night stands for her forever. She raised her hands, placed them on Stella’s shoulders, and lightly pushed her away. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got a meeting to prepare for.”


The lift stopped on Carrie’s floor and she hurried out without a backwards glance.


“Well if you change your mind…,” Stella called after her.


Carrie waved her hand through the air, dismissing the comment.


“Good morning,” her personal assistant, and friend, Mary said when Carrie arrived in her office a moment later.


“Any messages?” Carrie asked.


Mary had been her assistant for seven years, and Carrie had always considered her more of a mother figure than just a colleague. Mary was the one she went to with any problem, personal and professional. She was sixty-five, stood just below five feet, had graying-brown hair, the sweetest smile, and the biggest bosom. Often, she would hug Carrie to her breast to comfort her when she was upset.


“No. How did the meeting go with Norman?” Raising her gaze, Carrie gave Mary a strained smile. “That bad, huh?”


Carrie dropped her lips. “Can you get me all the information we have on Holly Fletcher?”


“Isn’t that the woman who took Delaney’s account?” Mary sounded tentative.


“Yes, she’s going to be working here. And I have the delightful task of showing her around. I’m going to need to know all I can about her if I’m going to be ready for her.”


“Okay, I’ll sort it out for you. When do you need it by?”


“As soon as possible, please.” Carrie smiled sweetly, then headed into her office. As she moved through the average-size room, she threw her blue suit jacket over the back of the guest chair, picked up her acoustic fender from its stand, and slouched into the plush leather chair behind her desk.


Carrie often worked on projects in her office until late at night. She kept her guitar at the office because it never failed to relax her when she became worked up over one issue or another. Strumming a few chords helped to ease her tension, and usually led to her best ideas.


She kicked off her black heels and wiggled her hose-covered toes, then put her feet up onto the desk. Cradling the guitar, she began to strum, thankful for the soundproofing Norman had put in when he leased the building to allow business to be conducted without people eavesdropping on private meetings. She stared out the window of her tenth floor office, overlooking the rooftops of Bristol City Centre as she strummed.


She thought back to six months ago, when she had found out Roger Delaney had chosen another company to advertise with. He called her to arrange a meeting about the campaign and she assumed it was to settle a launch date. However, when she strolled into his office and saw him talking to Holly, whom she recognized from an advertising conference earlier that year, she knew something wasn’t right.


Roger Delaney introduced them and got straight down to business. “I’ve asked you here because we have a problem.”


Carrie kept her eyes on Holly as she said, “What do you mean, Mr. Delaney? I thought everything was coming together.”


“It is, but I’ve had an offer from Heralds. They want me to do the campaign with them, and to be honest it’s a tempting offer.”


“I don’t understand. We have a contract with you.” She furrowed her brow. “You can’t just pull out of the deal.”


“I’m sorry, but if you read the contract I signed, it only states that I agree to the advertising campaign. Not the price or who runs the ads for me.”


Her mouth fell open as the pieces came together. Her cheeks burned, and she wanted to wipe the smile off Holly Fletcher’s beautiful but arrogant face.


“Are you saying Heralds is going to run my adverts? The adverts I spent a year arranging and producing?”


“Obviously your company will be compensated but—”


Carrie thumped her hand hard upon the desk, making them both jump. “You can’t just steal my ideas.”


“Per our contract, the adverts belong to Delaney Golf and Leisure. I will pay for the work you’ve done, but Heralds will run the campaign for me.”


Carrie slumped into the chair, not sure how to continue. She glanced up and met Holly’s green eyes. She thought she saw a little compassion and guilt in them, but the woman was still a bitch. Carrie glared at her. “I hope you’re proud of yourself. You’ve most likely destroyed my firm.” Without another word, she stood and graciously strode out of Roger Delaney’s office, not sure how she was going to tell Norman their biggest client had chosen their rival.


Her musings came back to the upcoming meeting tomorrow. She had no idea how she was going to work with the woman. Holly Fletcher certainly was good-looking and had a smoking-hot body. When she had introduced herself at the conference, Carrie had felt an attraction. At any other time or place, she might be tempted to make a play for her, but not after she nearly lost her job because of that bitch.


Norman hit the roof after learning that Heralds had taken the Delaney account. He spent thirty minutes yelling at Carrie, calling her incompetent and useless, and saying he should have never listened to Thomas. He had wanted to suspend her for failing to get the right contract signed, but as she was a senior partner in the firm and this was her first major mistake, he “suggested” she take a few weeks off to regroup. She did as asked but instead of “regrouping,” she turned to drinking every night and frequented the local lesbian bar, Cherry Bomb, where she also drank heavily and picked up strangers.


After attending the Christmas party and sleeping with Stella, Carrie decided to get her life back. Only she could get herself out of the spiral she had gotten stuck in, just like always.


Thinking about Holly Fletcher and how she stole her campaign made work impossible. When Carrie glanced at the clock and saw it was nearing four in the afternoon, she decided to finish for the day. She gathered her bag and coat and headed out of the office.


“I’m going to go,” she said to Mary, who sat typing at her desk. “I can’t think straight right now.”


Mary stood and stared at her for a few moments. “You want to talk about it?”


Carrie smiled at her, wondering if Mary was trying to read what was going on in her mind. The affection in the woman’s voice warmed her heart. She wished again that Mary could have been her real mother. “Thanks, but I’m okay. It’s just that woman coming here. I don’t think I can cope with it right now.”


Mary slipped around her desk and pulled Carrie into a long embrace. She whispered into her ear, “If you want to talk, I’ll listen. Pick up the phone, not the bottle.”


Carrie let out a laugh. “Don’t worry. I won’t let her mess me up again.”


“Now come on. The woman was just doing her job and Roger had every right to go with someone else.”


“How can you condone what he did?”


“We have been friends for years. You know this.”


“But he went behind our backs!”


“I know, but he explained to me that it was the best decision for his business at the time. I’ve told you this before.”


Carrie still couldn’t believe Mary and Roger were friends after what he’d done. How many more times was she going to be betrayed? She tried to push it from her mind, focusing instead on Holly coming here.


“She knew she was taking my ideas. She is still responsible.”


Mary patted her shoulder. “Well, I’m just saying that you should try to get beyond this, for your own sake.” She sat back in her chair, peering over the rims of her glasses. “Now, as I said, I’m here if you need to talk.”


Carrie smiled thinly. “Thank you. I need to get going.” She left the office. The sooner she got back home, the quicker she could open the bottle of whiskey she had stashed in the back of a cupboard. Dealing with Holly Fletcher brought too many memories to the surface and the only way to rid them was with her old friend Jack Daniels.


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