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Huge Deal (21 Wall Street Book 3), page 1

 

Huge Deal (21 Wall Street Book 3)
 


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Huge Deal (21 Wall Street Book 3)


  PRAISE FOR LAUREN LAYNE

  “Exemplary contemporary romance.”

  —Library Journal

  “Flawless contemporary romance—witty, sexy, heartfelt, and hugely entertaining.”

  —USA TODAY

  OTHER TITLES BY LAUREN LAYNE

  21 Wall Street

  Hot Asset

  Hard Sell

  I Do, I Don’t

  Ready to Run

  Runaway Groom

  Stiletto and Oxford

  After the Kiss

  Love the One You’re With

  Just One Night

  The Trouble with Love

  Irresistibly Yours

  I Wish You Were Mine

  Someone Like You

  I Knew You Were Trouble

  I Think I Love You

  Love Unexpectedly (stand-alone novels)

  Blurred Lines

  Good Girl

  Love Story

  Walk of Shame

  An Ex for Christmas

  The Wedding Belles

  From This Day Forward (novella)

  To Have and to Hold

  For Better or Worse

  To Love and to Cherish

  New York’s Finest

  Frisk Me

  Steal Me

  Cuff Me

  Redemption

  Isn’t She Lovely

  Broken

  Crushed

  The Best Mistake

  Only with You

  Made for You

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2019 by Lauren Layne

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781542093347

  ISBN-10: 1542093341

  Cover design by Letitia Hasser

  Cover photography by Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com

  For Anth.

  PS: One day, I will win at chess.

  For now, my heroines do it for me.

  CONTENTS

  PART ONE

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  PART TWO

  19

  20

  21

  22

  23

  24

  25

  26

  27

  28

  29

  30

  31

  Epilogue

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  PART ONE

  1

  Tuesday, March 26

  “Okay, so where are we with the ice sculpture?”

  Kate Henley let the question hang in the air unanswered for about seven seconds longer than comfortable, hoping that the asker would hear the ridiculousness of the question and retract it.

  Claudia Palmer merely blinked at Kate with eyelashes that may or may not have been real and waited for Kate’s response.

  Kate let out a tiny internal sigh. She’d mastered it over the years. It was the kind of sigh nobody else knew was happening, but it allowed Kate a moment of silent acknowledgment that she was right, even if the other person didn’t realize it. Yet.

  If Kate had learned anything in her twenty-seven years, it was that there was a certain power in being underestimated. And at five foot one, with boring brown hair, boring brown eyes, and a penchant for prim clothing, Kate was the queen of flying under the radar when she needed to. Other times, being underestimated wasn’t powerful so much as supremely annoying.

  Times like now.

  “Still working on it,” Kate finally replied. “General consensus is that a six-foot ice sculpture in a warmer-than-usual spring is going to be a pricey endeavor.”

  The other woman gave a practiced, dramatic wave of her hand. “Please. If Givenchy can pull it off in Milan in August, we can do it in Manhattan in April.”

  Kate surreptitiously checked the time on her iPad: 2:14 p.m. Cue the slow clap for Claudia. Her boss’s girlfriend had made it fourteen minutes into their meeting before name-dropping one of her famous designer contacts. A new record.

  “Okay, so you’ll take care of that,” Claudia said, looking back down at her tiny spiral notebook. “I’m still undecided on who we should have supply the oysters. I’ve heard good things about Oysters XO. Have you worked with them?”

  “Sure, several times,” Kate said. “But—”

  “Okay, maybe I’ll hand off this task to you as well,” Claudia said, tapping her lip with a perfectly manicured red nail. “I’m thinking a mix of East and West Coast. What do you think?”

  “I’m thinking Kennedy’s allergic to shellfish,” Kate said.

  Claudia didn’t even glance up. “So? He won’t be the only one at this party.”

  Um. “But it’s his birthday party.”

  Claudia apparently hadn’t mastered the silent sigh, because hers was audible and annoyed. “Kennedy will understand that other people like oysters, even if he can’t indulge. There’ll be other food for him to eat.”

  And chances are he’ll be so horrified by the ice-sculpture statue in his likeness that he won’t even notice the shellfish he can’t eat, the Maroon 5 cover band he can’t stand, the guest list of people he doesn’t know . . .

  Kate was on the verge of letting Claudia know exactly what she thought of her party plan when the other woman reached across the conference room table and touched her arm. “Thanks again for helping me with this. His mother kept offering, but it’s important to me to show Diane that I can do this on my own. That I care about her son as much as she does.”

  Kate forced a smile in response, even as she privately doubted that someone who’d been dating Kennedy Dawson for all of two months could possibly care about the man as much as his own mother. Not to mention, Claudia was hardly doing this “on her own.” Kate should have known better when Claudia had asked if she could “run a few ideas” by Kate for a small surprise get-together for Kennedy.

  In reality, Kate was spending nearly as much time on this damn party as she was her actual job as Kennedy’s assistant, and she was pretty sure she was ending up with the majority of the work for what was turning into a freaking circus.

  “I’m sure he’ll appreciate it,” Kate said noncommittally. “Though if you’re open to suggestions—”

  “Claudia? What are you doing here?”

  Kate went still for just a half second, the way she always did when she heard his voice, the gesture as frequent, and nearly as imperceptible, as her internal sighs.

  Claudia immediately stood, all graceful movement and long legs, as she slid her notebook across the table to Kate.

  Since Claudia’s and Kennedy’s focus was entirely on each other, Kate allowed herself the gratification of an eye roll at Claudia’s hasty handoff. As if Kennedy were really going to make a beeline for a tiny, impractical little notebook that had—Kate flipped through it—maybe twenty pages.

  Most of the pages were filled wi
th over-the-top party ideas. One simply said Doves.

  Kate smiled a little at that. It would serve Kennedy right to have doves at his party. In fact, if Claudia asked Kate’s opinion on the doves, Kate was happy to lie her little heart out.

  Absolutely! Kennedy would love to see a bunch of creepy birds at the birthday party he doesn’t know is happening and probably doesn’t want, because he hates surprises even more than he hates parties . . .

  Kate gathered her iPad and Claudia’s mini notebook, then turned, which she immediately regretted, because she’d moved too fast and saw Claudia pressing her lips to Kennedy’s.

  Claudia didn’t have to go on her toes, Kate noticed. Even without the heels, Claudia Palmer probably never had to go on her toes to kiss a man. The former model was five foot eleven. Kate knew, because she’d looked it up. Was she proud of her online stalking? Not particularly. But she’d learned over the years that doing a little up-front research on her three bosses’ latest lovers came in handy if things took a turn toward the dramatic, which was often the case. And who handled the drama? Spoiler alert: not the guys. Kate was the one who dealt with the fallout of her bosses’ ill-fated romantic endeavors.

  Of course, she didn’t have to worry about Ian or Matt anymore. Two of her guys had settled down quite nicely and had become another woman’s problem. There was just one left . . .

  Kennedy’s gaze found Kate’s within seconds of his lips leaving Claudia’s, and though she’d withstood the force of that glare nearly every day for six years, the effect never failed to jolt her, just a little.

  Kennedy Dawson was almost brutally attractive, in the upper-class, authoritative way of the Kennedys he’d been named after. His hair was somewhere between dark and medium brown, with a shiny thickness that rivaled the duchess of Cambridge. His eyes were golden brown and fringed with long lashes she’d once dared to comment on and gotten a growl in return. Everything about him was serious. His thick brows frequently tilted down into a frown; he had an unsmiling mouth, a sharp jawline that was tense more often than not.

  Sort of like now.

  She gave him a mocking smile in response to his impenetrable stare, sensing from the way his eyes narrowed that he’d seen both her eye roll and her smirk.

  “What are you two up to?” he asked, the question directed at Kate and not the woman pressed to his side.

  “Just girl talk!” Claudia chirped. “Getting to know each other. I stopped by to see you, but you weren’t around, so I chatted with Kate instead.”

  He looked back at Claudia and frowned. Always with the frowning. “I’m around. I’ve been in my office. Something my assistant would know. She could have told you to come on in.” He cut an irritated gaze at Kate.

  “Spare me,” Kate said in a bored tone as she stood and headed toward the conference room door. “But I’ve made a mental note. Next time you’re on a phone call with your biggest investor that took three weeks for his assistant and me to coordinate, I’ll let everyone know you’re in your office and that it’s okay to go on in.”

  “Oh, I’m sure Kennedy wouldn’t mind if I went in,” Claudia said with a warm smile, pressing her nose to his cheek and giving him some sort of weird Eskimo kiss.

  Kate caught Kennedy’s eye as she passed the couple and smiled sweetly. He tried to hide his wince and failed. She knew the only thing Kennedy hated more than interruptions while he was on the phone was public displays of affection.

  Just wait till you see the life-size ice sculpture created in your likeness, Kate thought as she left the conference room. It’ll be right next to the oysters you can’t eat.

  “Ah, there you are.” A large, masculine arm dropped over her shoulders as Matt Cannon, one of her other bosses, fell into step beside her. “Don’t be mad.”

  “What did you do?” she asked, already scrolling through the email on her iPad, trying not to be annoyed that her inbox had overflowed in the brief time she’d been discussing shellfish with Kennedy’s girlfriend.

  “You look so pretty today,” Matt said. “And you smell nice. So nice. New perfume?”

  Kate didn’t wear perfume.

  “Matthew,” she said, stopping at her desk and batting his arm off her shoulders. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

  “Didn’t what?” He picked up her stapler and pretended to study it. Matt was gorgeous, with blond hair and playful blue eyes. He was also utterly brilliant, having taken Wall Street by storm as a “boy wonder” back in his early twenties. He was also kind, charming, and she loved the guy, but the man had one serious shortcoming . . .

  Kate sighed. A real sigh, not one of the silent ones. “You did.”

  “Did what?” This from another male voice. “Managed his own calendar again?”

  “Managed is a strong word,” Kate muttered to Ian Bradley, her third boss, as she dropped into her desk chair and pulled up on her computer Matt’s calendar for the following day.

  “How bad is it?” Matt asked, craning his neck to see her screen.

  “Well, it depends,” she said, her mouse already clicking rapidly to repair the damage. “Just how much do you want to meet with Jarod Lanham, at the same time you have lunch with Sabrina, at the same time the Sams scheduled your Q1 review?”

  “Cozy!” Ian chimed in with enthusiasm. “Your bosses, your wife, and your top client, who once dated your wife . . .”

  “They didn’t date,” Matt groused at Ian before looking beseechingly at Kate. “Can you fix it?”

  “Done,” she said, already locking her computer screen and picking up her cell. “I sent an invite to Jarod asking to reschedule for Friday, confirmed the review with the bosses, and . . .” She held up her screen. “Just texted Sabrina to see if happy hour works instead of lunch.” Her phone buzzed, and Kate looked down at the message from Sabrina Cross, Matt’s wife and one of her best friends. “She says we’re good.”

  “I love you,” Matt said. “You are the best. And so, so pretty. Isn’t she pretty, Ian?”

  “So pretty.”

  Kate shot Ian a suspicious look. “What’d you do?”

  He sucked in his cheeks and pretended to think. “Hypothetically, if Lara was feeling a little stressed about the wedding, and I told her to calm down . . .”

  She gave him a look. “Please tell me you didn’t actually say the words calm down to the woman planning your wedding.”

  “Well . . .”

  “Oh my God,” Kate muttered, thumbs already at work as she wrote another text message, this time to Lara McKenzie, to do damage control with Ian’s fiancée. “At least if you two keep it up, I have unshakable job security.”

  And she meant it. Of course, on paper, she reported to Kennedy, Matt, and Ian. Technically, they were the bosses, she, the executive assistant. But they all knew who really ran the show.

  It wasn’t a typical arrangement, but the four of them went way back—they’d all started at Wolfe Investments the same year, within a month of one another. Back when the guys were junior brokers and Kate’s primary employment goal had been a job that covered vision insurance, contributed to a 401(k), and put her over-the-top organizational skills to use.

  Though Wolfe had a high burnout rate, with very few junior brokers “making it” to the next level, her guys had all been promoted to director. And while protocol had dictated they each pick their own dedicated assistant, they’d all picked, well, her.

  It had worked out well for all of them. On Wall Street, where douchebags were a dime a dozen, Kate had lucked out not only to have one boss who wasn’t a total dick but three who respected her and had become friends.

  The result had been a crazy few years, but Kate wouldn’t have changed a moment of it. Well, that wasn’t true. Kate would happily eliminate Matt’s fondness for screwing up his own calendar. And she hadn’t exactly relished Ian’s pre-Lara days when she’d smoothed out more than one of his awkward Whoops, I slept with her; Whoops, her, too scenarios.

  As for Kennedy . . .

  “Hey,
if it isn’t my two favorite boys!” Claudia said, releasing Kennedy’s arm and coming over to greet them.

  Kate knew it was petty, but she couldn’t help but relish Matt’s ever so slight eye roll at Claudia’s over-the-top air-kiss routine.

  Claudia slapped Ian’s biceps. “Ian Bradley, I haven’t seen you in forever! You keep dodging my double-date invitations.”

  Ian dutifully pecked Claudia’s cheek. “Apologies, doll. The wedding planning’s been keeping us busy.”

  “Right! Remind me again when the big day is?”

  “It was supposed to be Valentine’s Day, but we made a last-minute venue change and pushed it to June.”

  “Oh, so your darling girl will be a June bride!”

  Matt caught Kate’s eye and mouthed, Darling girl?

  She pressed her lips together to hold in a smile, imagining what Lara, a badass FBI agent, would think of the descriptor.

  Kennedy caught their exchange and swatted the back of Matt’s head, which earned him a curious look from Claudia.

  Without acknowledging her silent question, Kennedy asked, “You ready for lunch?”

  “Lunch? It’s two thirty,” Matt said, glancing at his Rolex.

  “Congrats, Kate, you finally taught Matt how to tell time!” Ian exclaimed.

  “I wish,” Kate said.

  “You know, I mastered that a few years ago,” Matt said. “It’s damn dates that seem to trip me up . . .”

  “You sure?” Kennedy said. “Because you didn’t seem to have telling time mastered this morning when you were four minutes late for our six a.m. run.”

  Ian turned to Claudia. “It’s not too late, you know. Save yourself.”

  “I think he’s adorable,” Claudia said, reaching out and taking Kennedy’s hand. “Shall we?”

  Kate looked away under the pretense of checking her email, but not before she caught the way Matt was looking at her. She looked back for a moment, and Matt gave her a hint of a smile that was just a tiny bit sad.

  She wasn’t an idiot. She knew her friends all thought she was besotted with Kennedy Dawson. She wasn’t. Not anymore.

  She didn’t know how to explain it to them, though. She could barely even admit to herself that once upon a silly time, when she was far younger and more idealistic, Kate had looked up from her computer, locked eyes with her new boss, and promptly—stupidly—fallen head over heels in insta-love. The kind of all-consuming, butterflies-in-the-stomach, wedding-fantasy type “love” usually reserved for eighth graders and Disney characters. She’d even been so naive as to think maybe, just maybe, the way his eyes darted away when she looked his way meant something. She’d foolishly let herself believe that he’d been quietly watching her, the same way she found herself looking at him more than necessary.

 
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