“We’re doing this to make sure he doesn’t hurt you again.” She put her hand on my shoulder and I nodded, acknowledging her concern. “But we probably shouldn’t test out the taser.” She laughed.
I smirked. “We wouldn’t want you couch-ridden again.”
“Speaking of couch-ridden, I should probably rest.”
“Me, too,” I said as I realized how exhausted I was. “It’s been the longest day.”
We went inside and each disappeared into our rooms. I took off the necklace and placed it on my bedside table, still nervous that I might accidentally set it off in my sleep, and hid the taser in my closet. I would tackle that one another day.
As I climbed into bed, I found myself thinking of Vincent’s trip to Brazil and realized that I no longer felt so nervous about it. I couldn’t deny that he was attractive and that other women would always respond to that. But for the first time since Marty showed up I didn’t feel so scared. In fact, I felt in control.
I tried not to let my nerves get the best of me when I got to work the next day. I wasn’t sure what my meeting with Carl was for, only that he wanted me in his office at noon. The morning went slowly, my anticipation of the meeting causing me to look at the clock every few minutes. The dragging time made it hard to push thoughts of Vincent’s business trip from my mind. I hadn’t heard from him since he left. I knew he was busy but he could’ve at least managed a text.
Although I had Vincent to thank for the greater sense of security I now felt with my mace and taser on hand, I couldn’t shake the lingering sense of jealousy I felt every time I thought of the launch party. Bikini clad models would no doubt be there to show off the new surfboard, and there would certainly be no shortage of alcohol. Vincent said it himself—he wasn’t used to taking things slow, and he definitely wasn’t used to commitment, how could I compete with models when I was on an entirely different continent?
I tried to distract myself with work—skimming the accounts of a few potential clients and answering emails throughout the morning. When it was finally noon I made my way to Carl’s office, stopping in the bathroom to make sure I looked presentable, before giving a light knock on the door. A low voice called from behind it, telling me to come in.
I opened the door and stepped into his office. It was almost as impressive as Vincent’s—a view of the Hudson River Park served as a stunning backdrop for plush leather office chairs, a glossy hardwood desk, and chrome fixtures that gave the space a classic but contemporary touch. Carl was poised over an open file, a silver pen flicking quickly across the pages inside.
“Good afternoon Mr. Stansworth.”
Carl immediately looked up from his work and gave me a smile, a refreshing change from Richard, who could barely tear his eyes from his phone. His remaining gray hairs were neatly combed. Although he had crow’s feet beneath his eyes, he was sprightly and kept in good health. “Afternoon Kristen, why don’t you take a seat?”
I sank into the black cushioned chair across from his desk, the nervous energy I had worked up earlier hitting me full force as I contemplated why Carl had called the meeting. Had Richard complained about my performance? Did Carl know about me and Vincent? I’d never forgive myself if I’d let an attraction ruin my career.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you into my office this afternoon,” he said as he carefully capped his pen and set it aside, focusing his attention on me.
I swallowed and tried not to betray my panic as I answered him. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, I’d like to start off by saying that you’ve done good work on the Sorenson account.” A warm smile spread across his face as he spoke. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that I wasn’t going to be demoted or, worse, fired for dating a client. “We knew he would be difficult to land, but you did it.”
The nervous energy I had been feeling earlier began to dissipate with Carl’s encouraging words. It felt good to be recognized for the work I’d done, especially without the assumptions that my “feminine allure” had anything to do with it. Still, Richard was integral in researching Vincent and formulating our strategy for our first presentation—I really couldn’t have done it without his help. “Thank you,” I said. “But Richard did a lot of work on that account, too. I can’t take all the credit.”
“Richard played his part, but you closed the deal. That’s what matters on an account like this, so congratulations. You earned that promotion.”
“Thank you Mr. Stansworth.”
“And that’s why I’ve asked you in here today, I was hoping you could give me your opinion on a prospect we’ve been trying to land for a few weeks now.”
I hoped I wasn’t blushing, but I was flattered that Carl trusted me enough to consult me on a pitch I wasn’t even assigned to. “Who’s the client?”
“Michael Cohen, are you familiar?”
Anyone who worked at Waterbridge-Howser would recognize the name; in fact, most of the firms in New York City had been trying to take him on as a client ever since he dropped Ellis-Kravitz as his wealth management firm two months prior. “Of course,” I said. “He owns the most profitable industrial machinery company on the East Coast and is looking to expand cross country. I thought he had already decided to go with Waterbridge-Howser?”
“So did I, but we recently found out that he took a meeting with Watson-James. We’re scheduled for a follow up pitch tomorrow but I think we need to rework our strategy—clearly it didn’t work the first time.”
I hadn’t reviewed the materials, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to suggest anything useful. “I’m not sure I can be of much help,” I admitted.
He opened a desk drawer below him and rummaged around for a minute before producing a thick manila folder. “I wouldn’t have asked for your help if I didn’t think you were capable, Kristen. Just take a look at this file,” he said as he handed the folder to me. “These are the documents from our initial meeting with Cohen. I’d like to hear any ideas you might have on a new approach.”
I browsed the contents of the folder, comparing the initial proposal to the limited knowledge I had of Cohen’s company. Feeling emboldened by Carl’s confidence in me, I decided to point out the first inconsistency that I saw, hoping not to step on any feet. I took a deep breath, formulated my thoughts, and spoke. “The initial approach was strong, the emphasis on his expansion is key. But I think you might benefit from a broader focus on the strongholds he already has on the East Coast. Especially with the risk he’s taking by expanding, we need to reassure him of the solid platform we can build using his current assets. I think we need to show him that we’re invested in the business he’s already built, not just his potential for the future.”