A sudden pang of homesickness for all that she’d left behind twisted inside her as she thought about the old friends she hadn’t seen in over a decade.
“Mary?” Jack’s eyes were concerned. “Is everything all right?”
She forced her lips up into a smile. “Of course it is. We’re here to celebrate, after all.”
Before he could probe further, she followed his partners into the bar and slid onto an open stool. Howie’s girlfriend Layla came in, then, and after several minutes of nonstop gushing about how excited she was to meet a world-famous model, Mary was extremely grateful when Larry appeared with a bottle of champagne.
“To the fabulous, amazing, lifesaving woman who saved our business singlehandedly!”
Mary laughed at his obvious hyperbole and held her glass up even higher. “To the three fabulous, amazing men who invented the Pocket Planner!”
The five of them clinked glasses and toasted to the hopes of continued success. Mary had always enjoyed champagne, but with Jack beside her, all of her senses were on especially high alert. The bubbles felt crisper, the wine sweeter, the effect of the fizzy liquor headier.
When she noticed that Larry had pulled out a pen and was making notes on a napkin, Jack leaned over and said, “His brain rarely shuts off. Even,” Jack said pointedly, “when we're here to celebrate rather than work.”
“That’s one of the things I like about the three of you. You’re all so committed to what you’re doing. So passionate about it. And,” she said as she looked at how comfortable they were with each other after so many years of working closely together, “you seem more like brothers than business partners.”
Larry held up the list he’d made. “These are our highest level action items.” He pointed to the first one with the tip of his pen. “Do you think you’ll be able to get that great photographer you worked with in Union Square to work on this campaign with us?”
“I hope so. I’m sure Gerry will be as excited about it as I am, and even if he’s busy, I’ll do my best to convince him to squeeze us in.”
Continuing to ignore the warning looks Jack was shooting him across the table, Larry said, “If we’re going to get the word out by Christmas, we need to shoot the first ad by Monday, so—”“Don’t worry,” she promised him, “I’ll make sure we either have Gerry or another top photographer scheduled by Monday morning.” With Jack so near her like this, Mary decided it would be a very good idea to keep herself wholly focused on business rather than how good he smelled, or how deep and dark brown his eyes were. “In fact, while we’re here, why don’t we do some brainstorming about how you’d like to set up the ads?”
For the next thirty minutes, she had a great time throwing out ideas from what she’d learned in her shoots over the past decade, most of which were very well received by Jack and his partners.
“I honestly don’t know what we would have done without you,” Howie said, when they’d put together a fairly comprehensive starting plan. “You’re not just a model who’s going to make our device look a heck of a lot prettier—you’re like a whole ad agency wrapped into one person.”
Jack nodded his agreement. “Walter Industries has connected us with a couple of ad agencies during the past year, but nothing they came up with was anywhere near as fresh as this.”
“We’ve got some brilliant ideas here,” Larry murmured almost to himself as he made a few additional notes on his stack of napkins before shoving them into the front pocket of his jacket.
So many times during her career, Mary had been treated as if she couldn’t possibly have anything between her pretty ears. And, since she’d started modeling in her late teens, she’d never had time to get any degrees to prove that she did, indeed, have brains. Clearly, these three men with their Ph.D.’s from Stanford University were geniuses. For them to call her ideas brilliant meant a great deal to Mary.
“Look,” Layla suddenly said as she pointed up to the ceiling above Mary and Jack, “the two of you are sitting under the mistletoe.”
Mary looked up and confirmed that there was a fresh green sprig of mistletoe hanging directly over her and Jack. After a quick scan of the rest of the room, she realized it was the only one in the entire bar.
What were the odds that she and Jack would end up sitting under it?
Larry, Howie and Layla were already happily making their way through a second bottle of champagne. Clearly, the bubbly had gone to their heads, because when Layla said, “I’ve heard it’s bad luck not to kiss under the mistletoe,” in an earnest voice, Jack’s two partners nodded their heads, eyes bright from success and the drink.
Mary’s heart hammered and the stem of her glass slipped beneath her suddenly clammy fingers. Jack had said he wanted to kiss her, but she’d made it perfectly clear that he’d have to wait until the campaign had wrapped.
But, she asked herself now, what harm could there be in one teeny-tiny little kiss under the mistletoe in a downtown bar in front of his friends?
And wouldn’t it almost be stranger if they didn’t share a playful smooch?
“In that case,” she said slowly as she shifted in her seat to face Jack, “hopefully it will be good luck if we do.”
Any other man would have already claimed his kiss, or at least pressured her to give him one. But Jack wasn’t like any other man. Because, despite the obvious desire she could read in his eyes, he said, “Mary, you don’t have to—”