Standing Toe to Toe by Weston Parker

Chapter 1





Kathryn





It was almost time to begin.

Jonathan D. Ravenworth, my boss, took his seat to the right of the woman sitting at the head of the conference table. Today, he wore a dark blue suit. A burgundy pocket square with gold detailing winked for attention on his chest. I couldn’t tell from where I stood at the other end of the table, but I was fairly certain it was a Christmas pocket square.

Leave it to Jon to find a way to incorporate the holidays into everything he wore, even one of his sharpest suits.

My client, Mrs. Julia Pratt, sat at the head of the table with her head inclined slightly backward. She had a soft jaw and beautiful skin. Her cheeks were rosy either from her blush or the chilly Vancouver air. She’d just arrived fifteen minutes ago and abandoned her jacket on the chair behind her.

She studied the dozens upon dozens of sparkling snowflakes dangling from the ceiling by fishing wire. Jon’s receptionist, a young woman he’d hired not three weeks prior to this meeting, had hung all of them up last Friday, and it was only a matter of time before the holidays threw up all over the rest of the office.

The snowflakes were an unnecessary distraction. The JDR Agency was a place of business. Glittering snowflakes had no purpose there, especially in the conference room.

I cleared my throat and smiled. Mrs. Pratt looked from the festive ceiling to me. She wore a pleasant smile and her lips were the same tinted cherry hue as her cheeks. “Are you ready to begin?”

Was I ready? Of course, I was ready. I’d only been preparing for this presentation for the last three weeks.

I’d spent every minute in the office working on this contract. It was a big one, and there was a lot of pressure to secure Mrs. Pratt’s business. I was confident I was the right woman for the job.

Mrs. Pratt was a woman with flair. I’d known that about her from the first second I saw her. She’d been dressed in a sequin blazer and flared jeans that were just shy of being considered bell bottoms. They were designer, of course. So were her Jimmy Choos and the Prada handbag she’d carried in the groove of her elbow.

After shaking her hand during that first introduction, I’d silently concluded that the only thing missing from her statement ensemble was a teeny tiny dog in said Prada bag.

My presentation had been built around Mrs. Pratt’s flair.

She was the CEO of an up and coming matchmaking phone and web application called Perfect Pairings. The idea was that it paired like-minded people with their potential soul mates. Mrs. Pratt seemed to think it was unique, but from where I was standing, I recognized how much competition there was in the marketplace for such apps. People were always looking for love—and their soul mates.

Yuck.

It was my job to find a way to make Perfect Pairings stand apart from the other options out there. It needed a niche. A statement. A defining feature. Something. If I couldn’t find a way to make it stand out, then there was no reason for Mrs. Pratt to choose me as her marketing agent. And if she didn’t choose me?

Well, there was a lot on the line for me today.

Jon had been talking about retirement for the past six months. Ever since he married his new bride after sixty-three years of being a single man, he’d wanted to spend less time at the office and more time with her. I teased him for going soft and he only ever smiled.

Over the ten years that I’d worked for the JDR Agency, Jon had said dozens of times that he wanted to make a position for a long-term employee partner in the company before he stepped down. If this presentation went well and I secured Mrs. Pratt as a client, I knew I would climb the ladder and be among the top names in his pool of choices for partner.

Me and one other name.

But I didn’t like to think of him right before getting down to business. Too much was on the line to get distracted by petty irritations.

It was time to begin.

I lifted my chin and squared my shoulders as I made eye contact with my client. “Based on my research, I have discovered that it takes an average of eighty-eight days for men to say those three little words: I love you. Now consider this. Eighty-eight days breaks down into two months and twenty-four days. How many dates would you say a busy woman like yourself could squeeze into that timeframe, Mrs. Pratt?”

My client pursed her Botox-filled lips, or rather, she tried to. They remained plump and full and glistening. “I suppose one per week. Maybe two if I really liked the man.”

“Right,” I said, pleased by her answer. That part of the presentation had been a gamble. I was making a lot of assumptions by basing the presentation strictly on her response. If she’d said she could go on four dates a week, I’d be scrambling with my pitch. “Let’s go with the premise that you do in fact really like this man. You might even be thinking he could be the one. But even so, in eighty-eight days, or twelve and a half weeks, that only gives you twenty-four dates. Maximum. Do you think you could feel confident in telling a man you loved him in that timeframe?”