the way you look tonight - Page 14

“You have been associated with some of the most exclusive products in the world. May I ask why you would agree to work with a group of fledgling start-up engineers?”

Larry was yanking at his tie as if it had just shrunk three sizes too small and Howie was sweating. Clearly, they were waiting for Jack to jump in and salvage the situation before it could go too far off track. But Jack simply sat back in his leather seat. He had every faith that Mary could answer the chairman’s question better than anyone else could.

“I met Jack yesterday in Union Square. I believe it was right after your meeting, when you indicated that the product needed more sex appeal.”

Though his partners’ eyes went wide at her honest response, Jack appreciated her candid reply. She was nobody’s fool, and she didn’t expect anyone to be hers, even when he himself had tried to change the words sex appeal to mass appeal.

Mary smiled at each of the powerful businessmen in the room, not in the least intimidated. Even as a brand-new teenage model so many years ago, he guessed she must have been a force to be reckoned with, her strong will just as potent as her gorgeous face.

“I appreciate the advertising power of sensuality,” she said in a voice as smooth as Glenlivet whisky, “but sensuality is nothing without the smarts to know what to do with it. The Pocket Planner is a brilliant invention. More than that, it’s actually useful. I can literally think of a dozen men and women I could give it to as a Christmas gift this year. And I can guarantee they’d all love it simply because it would make their lives easier.”

That was when Allen actually clapped his hands in glee, a sixty-something man who Jack thought might have just fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful woman sitting before him.

But when the man at his left leaned over to whisper something into his ear, Allen frowned. “There’s no question that you’re perfect for the job, Mary. However, there may be one small problem. At this point in the fiscal year, our budget is rather low, and I’m sure your fee is, justifiably, extraordinarily high.”

Jack had already decided on a solution to this issue. “I’ll split my royalty share with Mary.”

Everyone turned to him with a shocked expression, including Mary. “Jack,” she said as she put her hand on his arm, “you don’t have to do this.”

“And you don’t have to, either,” he said softly, “but you’re here.”

“In that case,” Allen said before anyone could change their minds, “I believe we have ourselves a deal.”

The four of them shook hands with the board, and while Mary was chatting with one of the other men, Allen pulled Jack aside. “I don’t know how you pulled this off. Mary Ferrer is one in a million. People will be tripping over themselves to find out why she’s so excited about your invention.”

Jack liked and respected Allen. It was one of the main reasons he’d wanted to work with the man and his company. But he had no intention of using Mary as if she was a product to be sold.

“We’re very lucky that Mary has agreed to work with us,” Jack said in a measured voice. “Very lucky,” he repeated, before adding, “I expect everyone to treat her with the utmost respect at all times, all the way down the chain of command. And if someone should forget to do so and she feels she must leave the campaign as a result, it will be our fault. Not hers.”

Allen’s eyes narrowed at the clear warning, but Jack didn’t care how many millions the man was worth. The two men stared at each other in silence for several moments before Allen finally nodded. “Agreed.” He glanced at her again. “She is most definitely one in a million.”

Chapter Five

“It’s time to celebrate!”

Howie had used the receptionist’s phone to call his girlfriend, Layla with the good news. She left work early to meet them at the Gold Dust Lounge in Union Square.

After they got off the trolley, Jack and Mary walked down the sidewalk behind his partners. He was strong and steady at her side, just as he’d been in the boardroom.

The sharp winds from the previous day had blown out of the city, leaving behind bright blue skies and a surprisingly warm sun. It was one of the things Mary liked best about San Francisco—the weather could be so topsy-turvy, with cool, foggy summers and warm, sunny winters. And, now, Mary felt just as topsy-turvy over what Jack had said to her just before they’d gone into the meeting.

If it’s a choice between selling a million Pocket Planners and getting the chance to be with you, I’ll figure out some other way to get this product off the ground.

When was the last time a man had put her first?

She honestly couldn’t remember.

Though she was a naturally positive person, Mary had seen enough over the past thirteen years as an in-demand model to develop a necessary cynicism. As much as she would have liked to take everything people said and did at face value, she made herself ask the difficult question: Had Jack simply been trying to make her feel good by telling her what he thought she wanted to hear?

Or was she right to feel that every word he’d spoken had rung with sincerity?

She couldn’t forget the shocking offer he’d made in the boardroom to give her half his royalty share. It was completely crazy, and she could never take him up on it. He’d worked on his invention for ten years, whereas she would only be promoting it for a short while. But, still, the gesture said a lot about him as a man.

At quitting time on a Friday night, the popular piano bar was just coming to life. Some things, Mary mused, were the same all over the world. The bars in her hometown in Italy would be full of friends and family members greeting each other with kisses on the cheek and sighs of relief that they had a weekend of relaxation ahead of them. The only difference was that the men in her hometown would be coming from ancient palazzos wearing work clothes rather than from high-rise buildings wearing three-piece suits. And the women would be nursing a glass of wine while keeping one eye on their children playing tag out by the fountain rather than sipping cosmopolitans before deciding where to go dancing for the evening.