Subject: Boxed lunches for sale in the catering kitchen—$5.00 each—first come, first served—don't email me!
Bessie Wilson, Catering Staff Coordinator
“Now they’ve decided to make us pay for food,” Rowan said.
“Good,” Madelyn said. “Maybe that will discourage us from eating everything that’s offered.”
“Like me, you mean?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” The strain in Madelyn’s voice reminded Rowan how difficult always being perfect must be. “Don’t take everything I say personally.”
“Sorry. It’s been a rough day.”
“It’s not even ten o’clock yet.”
Rowan’s phone rang, and the caller I.D. printout showed that it was the 24th Floor Boardroom.
“This is Rowan,” she said into the receiver.
“Could you please come to the Boardroom for a minute?” her boss, Benet Daye, said.
“Be right there.”
“And Rowan,” Benet said, “please bring Madelyn with you.”
After hanging up the receiver, she turned to Madelyn. “It’s Benet. He wants us to go the conference room. I’ll bet they want to order lunch.”
Benet had been in the conference room since 7:00 a.m. with Grey Faris, and his clients, Rex and Carina Selkirk. Since they had arrived so early, and neither she nor Madelyn were due in the office until 8:30 a.m., neither one of them had seen the Selkirks. Rowan had to admit to being curious. She wondered what they would be like, although she didn’t expect much. Just a couple of spoiled, rich people who thought too much of themselves and too little of others.
“I’m right behind you,” Madelyn said.
The Boardroom, the largest conference room on the floor, seated eighteen people. Situated along the windows on the building’s south side, the room was located opposite a long hall that ran behind the receptionist’s desk. A large screen TV on a rolling cart had been set up on one end. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and condiments covered a credenza on the opposite side. A small table on the non-window side held a half-empty tray of breakfast pastries and fruit. Rowan eyeballed it, unobtrusively, she hoped, to see what had been left over. Some of it still looked edible. She knew any leftovers would end up in the employee lunchroom on the 30th floor.
Benet sat on the window side of the granite-topped table and the Selkirks sat opposite. At the head of the table, presiding over the event, posed the stiff and serious Grey Faris. Benet stood when the two women entered, and Grey followed his example, albeit hesitantly. The other man also rose, and Benet made the introductions.
“Carina Selkirk, Rex Selkirk,” he said. “This is my assistant, Rowan Faine, and Grey’s assistant, Madelyn Morrison.”
They smiled and said hello. Rex gave them both a warm, friendly handshake. His open countenance radiated a suntanned glow obtainable only if one had the time and the means to go where the sun consistently shined. Rowan instantly liked him and could tell by Madelyn’s shy smile and downcast eyes that she liked him too. Rowan checked to see if he wore a gold band on his left hand and smiled when she saw that his ring finger was naked—not even a tell-tale white line where his ring used to be.
“Isn’t Rowan the one who thought up that great name for the health club?” Rex asked.
Benet smiled. “Sweat Equity? She sure is.”
Rowan cocked her head. “You’re going to use it?”
“With your permission,” Rex said.
“Of course, I’d be flattered.” She felt a flutter of gratification and excitement. She dared a glance at Grey, but he was looking down. She couldn’t see his face.
Carina did not rise from the table, but merely nodded in their direction. She seemed to be taking her cues from Grey and sat stiff and straight. She was one of those wiry women who sported breasts so large that anyone within a hundred yards could tell they were implants. Ropy, sinewy arms wrapped around her bosom, allowing no outsiders in, warning off the people she had been introduced to. If her brother’s manner was open and engaging, hers was the express opposite—closed off and defensive. The room crackled with the tension emanating from her direction.
Benet picked up a stack of papers and handed them to Rowan.
“Would you please make these corrections,” he said, “and bring them back when you’re done?”
She nodded and accepted the papers. She turned to leave, but Rex Selkirk called her back.
“We were about to order lunch,” he said. “What would you like?”
Rowan stared at him for a full ten seconds, which was a long time to be staring at a stranger. Her eyes began to dart from Benet to Grey and back again. This was a situation with which she had no experience. No attorney, much less a client, had ever asked her what she wanted for lunch, even when she was the one placing the food order.
“Madelyn,” Grey said into the silent room, “would you ask Bessie to order us a hot lunch from the Overlook Club. Whatever the special is today will be fine.”
“And be sure to order enough for yourself and Rowan,” Rex said.
Grey slanted a narrow-eyed look at him. Rex ignored him and continued to smile in Madelyn’s direction. Madelyn looked to Grey, and he nodded, confirming that it was okay to include them. The two women exited the room before anybody had an opportunity to change their minds.
“That was strange,” Rowan whispered to Madelyn as they walked back to their desks.
“It was thoughtful and considerate,” Madelyn responded.
“Have it your way.”
When they arrived at their desks, Rowan immediately began working on the documents Benet had given her. Madelyn called the office caterer, Bessie Wilson, and asked her to order a hot lunch for six people, specifying a side order of pasta rather than the chicken for herself, since she did not eat meat. Bessie had always gone out of her way to accommodate Madelyn’s vegetarianism.
“Order enough pasta for me, too,” Rowan said. It made her feel good to see the happy look on Madelyn’s face.
It took almost an hour to edit and print out the stack of documents. Rowan clipped the pages together and carried them back to the conference room. As she rounded the corner, she caught Coco, her sister, with her nose pressed against the frosted glass windows, trying to grab a peek at the Selkirks. Rowan hoped the frosting prevented her from being visible by the people on the other side. She shooed her away, sternly warning her that they were going to have to have a serious talk, and that she had better behave in the interim. Coco just rolled her eyes and stalked away.
Grey and the Selkirks had been talking amongst themselves, but went strangely silent as soon as she entered. She said “excuse me,” and Rex smiled. Since Benet wasn’t in the conference room, she left the papers at his place at the table. She exited, leaving the door slightly ajar, but paused when she thought she heard her name called. She turned, thinking they needed something, and listened.
Rex was speaking. “Admit it, Grey. This firm is full of fabulous women.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rex,” Carina said, her voice irritable and whiny, “you’ve dated fashion models. How can you even give these women a second look?”
“They’re sweet and pretty, and I like them. And Madelyn is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“I’d be shocked if Grey concurs with your opinion,” Carina said.
“She’s pretty enough” Grey said, “and an excellent secretary.”
“And Rowan,” Rex continued, “is quite attractive also—and smart.”
Carina snorted. Papers were shuffled, then Grey’s deep voice said, “I may have to support your idea of giving the staff free gym memberships, Rex. I know of at least one person who would greatly benefit from it.”
Rowan felt rage rush into her chest, and her racing heart roared. That pompous ass had called her fat! She couldn’t allow him to get away with that. She marched the three steps to the conference room, shoved open the door and stopped short. She stared directly at Grey, her lips trembling. She really thought she might cry. She struggled to gain control of her emotions.
Grey squinted at her as if daring her to say anything.
She sucked in a lung full of air, prepared to give him a scolding he not only deserved but had been needing for a very long time.