Marriage Terms(5)

By: Barbara Dunlop



Amanda didn’t want divine highlights, and she sure didn’t want to touch Daniel’s advice with a ten-foot pole. But she did love Karen, and she supposed highlights wouldn’t kill her.

“Okay. Highlights it is.”

Karen all but bounced back up into a sitting position. “Great. My treat.”

“No way.” Amanda wasn’t about to let Karen pick up the tab.

“Okay. Michael’s treat. I’ll make the reservations.” Karen reached for the phone.

“Your husband doesn’t pay, either.”

“But you said—”

“Final offer. We go to Eduardo’s, I pay my way and nobody tells Daniel.”

“Yes! We have a plan.”





Chapter 3





Daniel was a man with a plan. Of course, Daniel was always a man with a plan.

But this one was better than most.

The door opened, and Cullen entered the office on the nineteenth floor of the Elliott Publication Holdings building. He tossed a sheaf of papers on Daniel’s desk. “The new sales figures.”

“Thanks,” said Daniel, giving the report only a cursory glance.

Regina and Hopkins were probably his best bet. They were a reputable firm specializing in corporate law. He supposed getting Amanda a job offer up-front was probably too heavy-handed, but maybe he could drop a few hints regarding their billable hours and their profit margin. He was pretty sure Taylor Hopkins would give him that information.

“Last month’s numbers look iffy,” said Cullen, cocking his head in an effort to make eye contact. “We’re not going to pull ahead with numbers like these.” He paused. “It’s so frustrating not knowing where we are in the competition.”

“I see,” said Daniel with a nod.

Amanda obviously didn’t understand the amount of money to be made in corporate law. Or the fact that the money was all made during business hours. If she was invited anywhere in the evening, it would be to an art museum opening or a new production of La Bohème.

Daniel was willing to bet Taylor Hopkins had never, not even once, been called out at midnight to drop by the Fifty-Third Street lockup and arrange bail for a drug dealer.

“Dad?”

Not even once.

“Dad?”

Daniel blinked up at his son. “Yeah?”

“We’re probably losing this race.”

“You have your Mom’s phone number programmed into your cell?”

Cullen didn’t respond.

“Never mind,” said Daniel, pressing the intercom button. “Nancy? Can you get me the number for Amanda Elliott, Attorney? She’s in Midtown.”

“Right away,” came Nancy’s voice.

“You’re calling Mom?” asked Cullen.

“Somebody has to.”

“Dad, I really think you need to back up and—”

“You said something about sales figures?”

“Oh, now you want to talk sales figures.”

“When have I not wanted to talk sales figures?”

Cullen rolled his eyes. “We’re not gaining any ground.”

“We expected that.”

Cullen pointed to a number on the top sheet. “This is a problem.”

Daniel glanced down. That was a low number all right. “How are hits on the new Web site?”

“Increasing.”

“People buying subscriptions?”

Cullen nodded.

“Demographics?”

“Eighteen to twenty-four is the fastest growing sector.”

“Good.”

“Not fast enough,” said Cullen.

The intercom buzzed. “I have that number for you,” said Nancy.

“I’ll be right out.” Daniel stood up and clapped his son on the shoulder. “Keep up the good work.”

“But, Dad…”

Daniel slipped his suit jacket off the hanger on the corner coatrack.

“You’re leaving?” asked Cullen, glancing from the sales report to Daniel and back again.

“I’m thinking you’re right. A phone call is probably a bad idea.” He’d drop by Amanda’s office. That way she’d have a harder time saying no to a drink. He could call Taylor Hopkins from the car and have the facts and figures all ready to present.

Cullen walked backward, keeping himself between Daniel and the office door. “The reps will be expecting a conference call.”

“We can conference call tomorrow.”

Cullen came up against the door, effectively blocking Daniel’s escape. “You do realize we’re losing hope of catching Finola?”

“We’ll make it up in Web sales. That was the strategy all along.”

Cullen paused. “You do realize you’re on a suicide mission with Mom?”

Daniel cracked a small smile. “Your faith in me is inspiring.”

“Just laying out the facts for you.”

“Your mother’s an intelligent woman. She’ll listen to reason.”

Cullen put a hand on the doorknob. “What makes you think your idea is remotely reasonable?”

Daniel peered at his son. “Of course it’s reasonable.”

Cullen shook his head, his tone mocking. “Dad, Dad, Dad.”

Daniel held up his index finger. “Watch yourself. I may not be able to spank you, but I can still fire you.”

“You fire me, Finola will wax your ass for sure.”

Daniel pushed Cullen’s hand off the knob. “Young punk.”

“You got your will in order?”

“I’m writing you out of it in the car.”

Cullen gave him a mock salute and cocky grin as he stepped out of the way.

“You’re making a bold move here, Dad. A lesser man would be quaking in his boots.”

Daniel hesitated for a split second.

Then he shook his head and opened the office door. He had twenty years of wisdom and experience on Cullen, and his younger son wasn’t going to make him second-guess his plan.

Daniel noticed right away that Amanda’s office was a startling contrast to EPH.

It was smaller, darker, and where the Elliott building had lobby security, Amanda’s storefront door opened directly into the reception area, inviting any passerby to come right on in.

The young, multiearringed, purple-haired receptionist didn’t look as though she could stop a grandmother, never mind a criminal punk intent on harm. She stopped chewing her gum long enough to cock her head sideways in an inquiry.

“I’d like to speak with Amanda Elliott,” said Daniel.

The girl indicated the closed, frosted glass office door with her thumb. “She’s with Timmy the Trench. Be about five or so.”

“Thank you,” said Daniel.

The receptionist blew a pink bubble.

After checking a vinyl chair in the waiting room for dirt smears or chewing gum, Daniel sat down and sighed. The woman hadn’t even asked his name or his business with Amanda.

When the majority of your clientele was likely armed and dangerous, a person would think rudimentary security questions would be in order. First thing Daniel would do was install a metal detector at the entrance, and maybe station a couple of former Green Berets on the sidewalk.

A meeting with Timmy the Trench.

Nobody named Timmy the Trench could be up to anything remotely legal.

Fifteen minutes later, while, out of desperation, Daniel was leafing through a six-month-old edition of a competitor’s magazine, a short, balding man in a trench coat shuffled out of Amanda’s office.

“Can you call Courthouse Admin?” called Amanda through the open door. “I need to know the new trial date for Timmy.”

“Sure,” called the receptionist, punching the numbers on her phone with long, dark fingernails.

She glanced Daniel’s way and gestured to the open door. “Go on in.”

Daniel rolled to his feet, tossed the magazine back on the untidy pile and headed into Amanda’s office. He couldn’t shake the knowledge that he could be anyone, after anything.

“Daniel?” Amanda lifted her chin, rolling back a few inches on her office chair.

“Yeah.” He pushed on the door, and it rattled into place behind him. “And you’re damn lucky it is me.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “I am?”

He took one of the two molded plastic guest chairs opposite her desk. “That receptionist would have let anyone in here.”

Amanda tucked her dark brown hair behind her ear. “I suppose we could issue membership cards.”

He frowned. “You’re being sarcastic.”

“Am I? Care to guess why?”

Daniel leaned back and flicked open the button on his suit jacket. “It’s a defense mechanism. You use it when I’m right and you’re wrong.”

“When has that ever happened?”

“I have a list of dates.”

“I just bet you do.”

He paused, taking in the flash of her mocha eyes. She liked this. Hell, he liked this. There was nobody on the planet who could spar with him like Amanda.

She was quick on her feet and downright brilliant. That much hadn’t changed.

He remembered Cullen’s parting words. Perhaps he had underestimated how easy it would be to lure her over to corporate law. But he was definitely giving it his best shot.

“Have dinner with me,” he said on impulse. Then he saw her expression and realized his tactical error. Too bold, too up-front. It almost sounded like a date.

“Daniel—”

“With Cullen and Misty,” he quickly put in. As the boss, he could order their son to join them, right? If that didn’t work, he’d go straight to Misty. He’d heard through the family grapevine that she and Amanda had hit it off extremely well.

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