It wasunfair of my boss to order me to go.
“I don’t understand why this is a big deal. We’re only talking about the morning of one of the days. We’re not talking about your entire––will you look at me, please?”
But I didn’t have time. I was sorting paperwork on my desk in preparation for being away. I had different people doing different things, and so I was making piles. “My best friend is getting married, Knox. I don’t want to think about––”
“I need you to meet this woman, Stef. You’re the only one who can close the deal, so you’re the one who’s going.”
“I’ll go when I get back,” I responded absently, checking the inbox of my internal e-mail, hoping he’d get the hint and just leave.
“Look at me.”
But I was so busy. There were things I had to finish before I could leave and not worry. My assistant was amazing, but I couldn’t leave her everything. She’d kill me.
I lifted my eyes from my computer screen to meet his.
“That makes sense to you, does it? You’re going to fly to Amarillo––”
“Stefan,” his voice dropped irritably as he realized I had stopped listening to him.
“Are we still talking about this?”
“You’re going to Amarillo for your––”
“Lubbock,” I corrected him. “I’m flying into Lubbock.”
“Whatever. You’re telling me that you’re going to fly to Lubbock and drive to the small town where your friend is getting married––which, it turns out, is one town over from where Mrs. Freeman is––and then you’re going to come back here to Chicago only to turn around and make the same trip back out again? That seems logical to you?”
It didn’t, no. And even though I had no intention of telling him so, my best friend, Charlotte Holloway, soon to be Charlotte Cantwell, had told me the exact same thing when I explained what my boss was planning.
“Just take the meeting,” she laughed at me over the phone. “I mean, for crissakes, Stef, it’ll only take the morning of that Thursday, and the wedding stuff doesn’t even start until that night. I so don’t care, I swear to God.”
“You’ll resent me for making your wedding into a business trip.”
“I will only resent you if you’re not there when I need you. Other than that… I’m good.”
“Stef, I’m in Winston. Where you’re going is in Hillman. Seriously, it’s like an hour drive away, tops.”
“I just want you to know that my trip is all about you.”
“Yes, dear, I know.”
Knox barking at me brought me sharply back to the present.
“Are you listening to me?”
I had been daydreaming, so the answer was no, I was not listening to my boss, Knox Bishop, Director of Strategic Operations and Marketing.
“Just go see Mrs. Freeman. I already said I would pay for your ticket, what more do you want?”
“I don’t do sales,” I repeated for what felt like the millionth time. “You know I don’t. I’m in acquisitions, not sales.”
“It’s a title, Stef. You’re in sales, believe me.”
“No,” I squinted at him, “I assess what property we or should not purchase and how much money should or should not be offered to purchase said property. After a pitch is made and the deal is closed I––”
“This is important.”
“Then send one of the sales––”
“I need it to be you.”
“Because a great deal of money is riding on us closing this deal,” he explained, taking a seat across my desk from me.
Knox Bishop was one of those high-powered corporate men who always looked like he had just walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. He was model perfect. All the designer labels he wore, the way his steel-blue eyes never missed anything, the wisps of silver that had started to show in his thick, gray hair—he was flawless. The only thing more amazing than the way his suits fit or how broad his shoulders were or how his eyes twinkled when he was happy was his ever-calculating mind. The man was a first-class schemer, and he never missed a thing. The fact that he wanted me to go to Texas instead of someone else had already been carefully calculated. I just needed to figure out his angle. After four years of working for the man, it should have been easier for me to figure out what that was.
“Are you listening to me?”
“I just don’t understand. Make me understand.”
“It has to be you.”
“Do it as a favor to me.”
Favor to him? “Something must be really wrong.”
“Don’t concern yourself with that, simply get Mrs. Freeman in Winston, Texas to sell.”
“Why is it so important?”
“We need the land.”
“There’s other land.”
“I read the file, you know.”
“So you get it then.”
I squinted at him. “What I get is that your seller, Grace Freeman, is the lone holdout in this whole mess. Everyone else on all four sides of her has sold their ranches. She’s hedging and you don’t know why. You don’t know if she wants more money or if it’s the idea of selling the ranch that’s freaking her out.”
“Which is why I need you to––”
“You know, my friend Charlotte’s brother has a ranch, and he would never sell for anything, so how in the hell do you expect me to get this woman to say yes?”
“You need a salesman to go talk her into it, not me.”
“But do you get the––”
“I get that someone promised Armor South that land six months ago based on how fast the other ranchers were selling. So we took an advance, which we’ve probably already allocated to different projects, and now Armor South wants their land so they can build another one of those megastores. I get it. I get that we’re in the hot seat because if we can’t secure the deal for the land then we need to reimburse Armor South for, I’m guessing, millions of dollars?”
“Something like that.” He smiled at me.
“Then I suggest you send the top sales guy out there to––”
“We did that already,” Knox sighed deeply. “Mrs. Freeman threw him off her land.”
I arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I know.”
“That seems pretty clear to me,” I chuckled. “The deal is off. Give Armor South their money back or start looking for a new––”
“There is no other place.”
“Here’s the thing, Knox. I may go there and she may throw me off her land too.”
“And if she does, we’ll pay back Armor South, but I’ll bet she sells to you.”
“This is a job for the money guys. Go throw cash at her and see what happens.”
“We did that. It didn’t work.”
“Knox.” I sighed, deflating. He wasn’t going to stop. “What do you expect me to say that this woman has not already heard to get her to sell?”
“I think you should explain the benefits of a Green Light Megastore to the community.”
I groaned. “We don’t have any in Chicago, I’ve never even been in one, and, furthermore, I don’t work for Armor South or Green Light; I work for Chaney and Putnam Acquisitions, just like you do.”
“I know, Stef, but it has to be you.”
I let out another deeply annoyed sigh.
“You’re not always going to like all your assignments. There’s bound to be some you hate.”
“Like this one.”
“I’m going to a wedding and you want me to work in a meeting while I’m there. That doesn’t sound cheesy to you?”
“This is really a tremendous opportunity for you to prove yourself.”
To whom did I need to prove myself? “I don’t prove myself. I work off of sound––”
“I know, Stef. God, I know. Everybody knows.” Knox rolled his eyes, obviously done with me. “They want you there, Stef––you’re going, end of story.”
“You want me to go. Don’t blame anyone else.”
“Fine, whatever, I want you to go.”
“You don’t need me, you need a salesman.”
“You’re who I need, and you’re only missing the point because you don’t want to do it and you’re fighting me so hard. If you just think about it for a minute, you’ll get the logic.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Stef, no one can get things done like you can. Getting buy-ins from all parties is your strong suit. You close like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t close; it’s not closing. It’s getting signatures.”
I would have had to be stupid not to realize that I had a way with people, but still, I had no idea what that had to do with what we were talking about. I had not done any research, so I had no way of knowing what was best for the community, and I didn’t want to lie and act like I did. I always operated from the premise that what I was doing was actually in the buyers’ and sellers’ best interest, but in this case, I couldn’t honestly make that claim.
“I really don’t think this is a good idea.”
Knox’s smile was wide as he sighed heavily. “I promise you that it’s possibly the best idea I’ve ever had.”
I stared at him.
He waggled his eyebrows at me.
“I really hate you.”
“No,” he said, leaning back in the chair to look at me. “You’d take a bullet for me if it came down to it. You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever met in my life.”
I groaned, letting my head fall back, raking my fingers through my hair. “You don’t think sending a gay man to Texas is suicide?”
“You were going already, which is why I thought of you. It was like the answer to my prayers.”
“I’m going for a wedding, not to talk to ranchers.”
“You said your friend’s brother was a rancher.”
“Yeah, and we don’t talk. In fact, he hates me, and I hate him right back.”
“Well, un-hate him, because you might need his help,” Knox suggested.
I groaned loudly. “That’s not even possible.”
Knox grinned at me. “Sounds like maybe you like him.”
“That’s it, I’m not going. Fire me, but I’m not going.”
“You people are so dramatic.”
“‘You people’?” I repeated, aghast.
He groaned loudly.
I gave him a look, and he snorted out a laugh.
“Gay in Texas is an oxymoron.”
“Just don’t have a pride parade or anything.”
“And make sure you don’t take your rainbow flag.”
“I don’t own a rainbow flag,” I growled at him.
Knox started laughing.
“Shit, don’t they have the Klan there or something?”
More laughter that was harder and louder.
“I don’t have the wardrobe for the country.”
Knox’s head fell back, and he laughed so hard he could barely breathe. At least one of us thought it was funny. I was not amused at all.