Wendy Leland had left seven days ago to attend a family funeral. In the time she’d been gone. his whole company had started falling apart. A major deal she’d been finessing had fallen through. He’d missed an important deadline because the first temp had erased his online calendar. The second temp had accidentally sent R&D’s latest prototype to Beijing instead of Bangalore. The head of HR had threatened to quit twice. And no fewer than five women had run out of his office in tears.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough. the fourth temp had deep-fried the coffee maker. So he hadn’t had a decent cup of coffee in three days. All in all. this was not his best moment.
Was it really too much to ask that at this particular time— when both of his business partners were out of town and when he was putting the finishing touches on the proposal for a crucial contract—that his assistant just come home?
Jonathon stared into his mug of instant coffee. contemplating whether he could ask Jeanell—the head of HR—to go out and buy a coffee maker, or if that would send her over the edge. Not that Jeanell was at the office yet. Most of the staff wandered in sometime around nine. It was barely seven.
Yes. he could have just gone out to buy himself a cup o’ joe—or better yet. a new coffee maker—but with one deadline after another piling up. he just didn’t have time for this crap. If Wendy had been here. a new coffee maker would have magically appeared. The same way the deal with Olson Inc. would have gone through without a hitch. When Wendy was here. things just worked. How was it that in the short five years she’d been the executive assistant here she’d become as crucial to the running of the company as he himself was?
Hell. if this past week was any indication. she was actually more important than he was. A sobering thought for a man who’d helped to build an empire out of nothing.
He knew only one thing. when Wendy did get back. he was going to do his damnedest to make sure she never left again.
Wendy Leland crept into the executive office of FMJ headquarters a little after seven. The motion sensor brought the lights up as she entered and she reached down to extend the canopy on the infant car seat she carried. Peyton. the tiny baby inside. frowned but remained asleep. She made a soft gurgling sound as Wendy lowered the car seat to a darkened corner behind her desk.
She rocked the seat gently until Peyton stilled. then Wendy dropped into her own swivel chair. Swallowing past the knot of dread in her throat. Wendy studied the office.
For five years. this had been the seat from which she’d surveyed her domain. She’d served as executive assistant for the three men who ran FMJ: Ford Langley. Matt Ballard and Jonathon Bagdon.
Her five years of Ivy League education made her perhaps a tad over-educated for the job. Or maybe not. since she hadn’t procured an actual degree in any of her seven majors. Her family still thought she was wasting her talents. But the work was challenging and varied. She’d loved every minute of it. Nothing could have convinced her to leave FMJ.
Nothing. except the little bundle of joy asleep in the car seat.
When she’d left Palo Alto for Texas to attend her cousin Bitsy’s funeral. she’d had no idea what awaited her. From the moment her mother called her to tell her that Bitsy had died in a motorcycle crash. the week had been one shock after another. She hadn’t even known that Bitsy had a child. No one in the family had. Yet. now here Wendy was. guardian to an orphaned four-month-old baby. And gearing up for a custody battle of epic proportions. Peyton Morgan might as well have been dipped in gold the way the family was fighting over her. If Wendy wanted any chance of winning. she’d have to do the one thing she’d sworn she’d never do: move back to Texas. And that meant resigning from FMJ.
Only Bitsy could create this many problems from the grave.
Wendy gave a snort of laughter at the thought. Grief welled up in the wake of the humor. Squeezing her eyes shut. she pressed the heels of her hands against her eye sockets. Exhaustion had made her punchy. and if she gave in to her sorrow now. she might not stop crying for a month.
There would be time to grieve later. Right now. she had other things to take care of.
Wendy flicked on the desktop computer. Last night. she’d drafted the letter of resignation and then emailed it to herself. Of course. she could have sent it straight to Ford. Matt and Jonathon. She’d even spoken to Ford last night on the phone when he called to offer his condolences. Physically handing in the letter was a formality. but she wanted the closure that would come with printing it out. signing it and hand delivering it to Jonathon.
She owed him—or rather FMJ—that much at least. Before her life became chaotic. she wanted to take this one moment to say goodbye to the Wendy she had been and to the life she’d lived in Palo Alto.
Beside her. the computer hummed to life with a familiarity that soothed her nerves. A few clicks later. she’d opened the letter and routed it to the printer. The buzz of the printer seemed to echo through the otherwise quiet office. No one else was here this early. No one but Jonathon. who worked a grueling schedule.
After signing the letter. she left it on her desk and crossed to the closed door that separated her office from theirs. A wave of regret washed over her. She pressed her palm flat to the door. and then with a sigh. dropped her forehead onto the wood just above her hand. The door was solid beneath her head. Sturdy. Dependable. And she felt herself leaning against it. needing all the strength she could borrow.
“You can hardly blame Wendy.” Matt Ballard pointed out. a note of censure in his voice. At the moment. Matt was in the Caribbean. on his honeymoon. It was why they’d scheduled this conference call for so early. Matt’s new wife. Claire. allowed him exactly one business call a day. “It’s the first time in five years she’s taken personal leave.”
“I didn’t say I blamed her—” Jonathon said into the phone. now sorry he’d called Matt at all. He’d had a legitimate reason for calling. but now it sounded as though he was just whining.
“When is she supposed to be back?” Matt asked.
“She was supposed to be back four days ago.” She’d said she’d be in Texas two to three days. tops. After the funeral. she’d called from Texas to say she’d have to stay “a little longer.” The lack of specificity made him nervous.
“Stop worrying.” Matt told him. “We’ll have plenty of time after Ford and I get back.” As if it wasn’t bad enough that Matt was on his honeymoon during this crisis. Ford and his family were also away. at their second home in New York City. “The proposal isn’t due for nearly a month.”
Yes. That was what bothered him. “Nearly a month” and “plenty of time” were about as imprecise as “a little longer.” Jonathon was a man who liked precise numbers. If he was putting together an offer for a company worth millions. it mattered if the company was worth ten million or a hundred million. And even if he had nearly a month to work on the proposal. he wanted to know how long a little longer was.
Rather than take out his frustrations on his partner. Jonathon ended the phone call. This government contract was driving him crazy. Worse still was the fact that no one else seemed to be worried about it. For the past several years. research and development at FMJ had been perfecting smart grid meters. devices that could monitor and regulate a building’s energy use. FMJ’s system was more efficient and better designed than anything else on the market. Since they’d been using them at headquarters. they’d cut their electricity bills by thirty percent. This government contract would put FMJ’s smart grid meters in every federal building in the country. The private sector would follow. Plus the meters would boost sales of other FMJ products. How could he not be excited about something that was going to cut energy consumption and make FMJ so much money?
Everything he’d been working for and planning for the past decade hinged on this one deal. It was the stepping-stone to FMJ’s future. But first they had to actually get the contract.
Once he snapped his laptop closed. he heard a faint thump at the door. He wasn’t optimistic enough to imagine the temp might come in this early. But did he even dare hope that Wendy had finally returned?
He pushed back his chair and strode across the oversize office he normally shared with Matt and Ford. When he opened the door. Wendy fell right into his arms.