Forbidden Merger(5)

By: Emilie Rose

Riveting. Not that he’d seen any strippers, but he recognized innate sexuality when he saw it.

What’s more, he didn’t think she’d noticed that he—along with half the other men in Ernie’s Pub—had frozen with their glasses halfway to their salivating mouths to watch her wiggle out of that blazer.

She tucked a swath of straight, light brown hair behind her ear. “I, um, wanted to discuss some of our mutual advertisers.”

“What about them?”

She shifted on her bench seat and focused on the papers she’d extracted from her briefcase. “There’s a rumor that EPH’s magazines are deliberately lowering their advertising rates and padding their rate base to lure away Holt’s advertisers.”

“What? That’s nuts. We’d have to falsify our circulation and demographics to do that. We’d lose advertising income and credibility. Besides, you know as well as I do that there are two outside regulatory companies who track those numbers.”

With each magazine shooting for maximum profit in his grandfather’s contest, there was no way any of the EPH lines would turn away sales dollars. Aubrey’s rumor was pure bunk, but it could be damaging if advertisers thought EPH wasn’t being truthful.

“Where did you hear that?”

“I, uh, can’t reveal my source.” Her gaze didn’t meet his. She stroked the condensation from her water glass with one finger.

Liam’s gaze focused on the slow, gliding digit and sweat, like the droplet on her glass, rolled down his spine. Minutes ago he’d been anticipating her touching him. He severed the unacceptable tangent of his imagination and eyed her suspiciously. Were those seductive moves intentional?

“Has the circulation and advertising fee changed dramatically for some of your magazines over the past year? Are EPH’s magazines offering additional marketing services?”

“That’s confidential information.”

“I know, but the pressure is on for us to stay competitive with the EPH lines.”

“What Holt Enterprises does is not my problem.”

“I realize that. I was hoping—”

“Hoping I’d give you insider information?” A bitter taste filled his mouth. His grandfather had used Liam’s confidences. Was that Aubrey’s plan too?

“I was hoping we could work together to get a fair rate from our mutual advertisers and neither company would lose money.”

The only thing that kept him from walking out was hunger. That and a prickling at the back of his neck. He never ignored that warning sign. Something wasn’t kosher about Aubrey’s spiel, but given the stipulations in his grandfather’s plan and the disruptions at EPH, it was possible that some of the advertisers had caught wind of the dissention in the Elliott ranks and become unsettled.

They’d tried to keep the competition under wraps because Patrick was fanatical about guarding the family name and reputation, but leaks happened.

Liam signaled for the waitress and ordered his regular sandwich. Aubrey ordered the same, but he had the feeling it was more because she didn’t want to be bothered with a menu than from any real interest in a bookmaker’s special.

“I can’t help you. Nothing about the way EPH does business with its advertisers has changed.” Nothing except the magazines’ personnel were going at each other’s throats with fangs bared. His grandfather had decreed that the magazine with the highest profit margin proportionally at the end of the year would see its editor in chief become CEO of EPH. Nobody wanted to lose.

As financial operating officer Liam was in charge of tracking the numbers. The weight rested heavily on his shoulders. He’d had to take his personal feelings out of the equation, forget the people involved and deal strictly with the cold, hard facts. It wasn’t easy. He worried about EPH and worried about his mother even more.

And while his extended family self-destructed around him Liam realized life was passing him by. He was thirty-one. His parents had been married and had four children by his age. Even his brothers and sister had wised up. Gannon had married in February. He and his wife Erika were expecting their first child.

Liam’s younger brother Tag was engaged, and his sister Bridget had recently married a Colorado sheriff and left the family business. He also had a handful of cousins and an uncle who’d recently found their significant others.

All Liam had was a long history of hooking up with the wrong women, a job in the family business, a Porsche he rarely drove—but shelled out a fortune for in parking fees—and a Park Avenue apartment he only used for sleeping. He had no one to stand by and support him the way his father had supported Liam’s mother through her ordeal.

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