“So, you’re gonna call, right?” Liv asked from the chair next to her.
Amberley opened her eyes and turned her head to glance at her friend. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“You’re insane, you know that, right?” Liv grumbled, lifting a foot out of the soak she was enjoying so the technician could begin to paint her toes. “It’s been a week – they may have filled the position already.”
The nail tech working on Amberley’s nails gestured for her other hand.
“I’m just trying to be careful,” Amberley replied, obliging him. “I have to do my research.”
“What research?” Liv asked. “It’s Ashcroft Industries. I didn’t even know they were looking for an attorney – if you don’t want it, give me his card and I’ll apply pronto.”
Amberley’s lips twitched in a smile as she closed her eyes again and leaned back into the massage chair. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Liv snorted. “That’s my answer, then. If you were really unsure about it, you wouldn’t mind me taking a shot.”
“Don’t be like that, Liv,” Amberley said. “Okay, yes, it would be a fantastic opportunity. But what kind of CEO just offers a job to an attorney he meets in a bar? He doesn’t even know me.”
“Maybe he’s just unconventional,” Liv replied. “God knows I hate interviewing paralegals. Maybe he thought he’d try something different. Honestly though, Amb, I think he was just into you.”
“Which complicates him offering me a job,” Amberley pointed out. “If he’s just ‘into me’, do I want to go work for someone who just hired me because he likes how I look?”
“Who cares why he wants to hire you? Once you’re in the door, you’re in. Besides, he didn’t say he’d give you the job, he just told you to call their HR. I’m sure he can’t risk a sex scandal. He’s not exactly low-profile. That car of his gets attention all by itself, much less the hot guy driving it.”
“He is pretty, isn’t he?” Amberley said, smiling wryly. The smell of polish strengthened as the tech began to paint her nails with a classic French tip. Liv had gone for something a bit more unconventional. Her nails were currently sporting a fresh coat of bright blue polish with toes to match.
“It would be nice to have a new job lined up before I went home for Christmas,” Amberley mused. “Gives my parents less reason to insist I come home for a while.”
“Noah already got a new job,” Liv told her.
“Good for him,” Amberley replied brusquely. “Maybe one day I’ll end up facing off with him in court and can wipe the floor with him.”
“Wouldn’t that be something.”
“Yeah. Okay, maybe I’ll call.”
“Good. Otherwise, I would have done it and said I was you.”
Amberley snorted. “If you got hired, he’d probably question the sudden change in appearance.”
“Not for me, you goose. I’d pretend to be you then you’d be forced to go to the interview.”
“A master plan,” Amberley replied with dripping sarcasm.
Liv inspected her new paint job with interest. “Nah, you’re more their type anyway. Prim and coiffed with French tips to match.”
“I am hardly prim,” Amberley said, laughing.
“No, but your pedigree speaks for itself.”
“Which is why I use my mom’s maiden name,” Amberley retorted. “Anyone can look me up after, sure. But I don’t want to be hired just because of my dad.”
“Imagine though, if you were hired by Ashcroft Industries, your parents wouldn’t have one thing to complain about.”
“I’m sure they’d find something,” Amberley muttered, sipping her complimentary mimosa.
“Thanks for treating me to this, by the way. I love my sisters’ kids, but they make me not want to ever have any.”
Amberley snorted. “No problem. I hate going by myself, anyway.”
“When are you leaving for New York?”
“The twentieth. I wouldn’t be caught dead in O’Hare after that.”
“Yeah, no kidding. And how long are you staying?”
Amberley hesitated as the technician finished buffing her nails. “Well, I guess it depends, actually. If I suddenly find myself employed…”
“Yeah. Would you stay till New Years?”
“No way. I can watch the ball drop just fine from my couch, thanks.”
“Cool, we can go out then.”
Amberley snorted. “Yeah maybe.”
Liv nodded to her technician and got up gingerly from the massage chair. Amberley joined her and slipped each tech a twenty.
Liv turned. “Call them, Amberley Quinn. Else I’ll hold it against you forever.”
“Yes, Miss Lane.”
His assistant’s voice came through the speaker on his phone. “Marjorie Lowe from HR is on line one.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Putting her through now.”
Nathaniel waited until the telltale click indicating the connected call. “This is Ashcroft.”
“Mr. Ashcroft,” the woman replied.
Nathaniel picked up the phone from its cradle and held it against his shoulder as he perused a new contract. “Marjorie. How can I help you?”
“Sir, I’ve received an…interesting phone call.”
His curiosity piqued. “Yes?”
“I spoke with a young woman who claims you gave her your card and told her to call regarding the CLO position.”
“She says ‘Nate’ told her to call.”
“Ah, that would be Miss Quinn, then.”
“So you did instruct her to call?”
“Very well. You might remember, though, sir, we have a final interview scheduled with Mr. Thomas this week. For all intents and purposes, it’s a formality. We were planning to offer him the position shortly after that.”
“But it hasn’t been finalized yet, correct?” Nate asked, flipping to the next page of the contract.
“…no sir, it hasn’t.”
“Good. If Miss Quinn would like to come in and interview, I’d like to give her priority over our other candidates. Including Mr. Thomas.”
“I…sir, I apologize but, for what reason?”
“Miss Quinn was the leading attorney on the Melancon case.”
“I thought they dropped you from that suit, sir.”
“They did. And Miss Quinn won the case after that.”
“Sir, Mr. Thomas is very qualified…”
“As is Miss Quinn,” Nate replied coolly. “Mr. Thomas is a fine candidate, but I am interested in bringing in someone with a little bit less…traditional experience.”
“Very well, sir. I’ll schedule her for an interview.”
“Thank you. Add me to the invite, would you?”
“…for a preliminary interview, sir?”
Nate sat back in his chair with a sigh of frustration. “Yes, Miss Lowe, is that a problem?”
“No sir, of course not. I’ll get it scheduled.”
“I’ll send you the invite shortly.”
Nate put the handset back on the cradle, maybe a little harder than he meant to. He’d had a productive enough weekend, but HR was his least favorite department to work with and Marjorie in particular tended to make his carefully controlled temper flare now and again. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out the dossier. After a moment, he picked up the phone again and dialed a number.
“How can I help you, Mr. Ashcroft.”
“Hughes, about this profile.”
“From last week, sir?”
“What about it?”
“There are sealed records here. Can we look into that?”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir.”
Amberley adjusted her black pencil skirt for what seemed like the fiftieth time since she’d walked into the pristine building that housed Ashcroft Industries. The receptionist had called up to confirm her appointment, handed her a visitor’s badge, and told her to take a seat in one of the chairs that should have been way too nice for a building lobby.
She’d double and triple checked her briefcase to make sure it held extra resumes, pens, a legal pad and other documents that might come in handy. When the brusque-sounding woman from HR had gotten back to her after what seemed like an eternity on hold, Amberley was shocked when she’d asked what a good day for the interview would be. So here she sat in the lobby of Ashcroft Industries, wondering what exactly she was about to get herself into.
The elevator dinged for the tenth time since she’d been sitting there, and she instinctively looked up—again. The woman who got off was short and slight with pinned back brunette hair. “Miss Quinn?” she asked.
Amberley nodded and stood. “Yes.”
The woman extended her hand. “I’m Marjorie Lowe, the HR director.”
“Nice to meet you. You can call me Amberley.”
“Likewise, Amberley. Follow me, please.”
Amberley obliged her and the woman swiped her badge at the elevator, which opened against almost immediately.
“I don’t maintain as…strict a decorum as Mr. Ashcroft does,” Marjorie said as they stepped into the elevator. “But as a general rule, we address each other by last names around here. Mr. Ashcroft prefers it that way.”
Amberley blinked. “That’s…” she stumbled for words. “Nice,” she finished lamely.
To her credit, Marjorie looked like she wanted to laugh. “It’s a bit outdated, I suppose, but Mr. Ashcroft likes to maintain a professional distance from most of his employees. I only just got him to start using my first name a few months ago, and I’ve been here for five years.”
“So, you’ve been here almost since the company started,” Amberley replied, quickly doing the math.
“Yes. I’ll admit, I was surprised by you referring to him as ‘Nate’. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone except his mother call him that.”
“Really?” Amberley asked, surprised.
Marjorie nodded. “He considers it an unprofessional nickname.”
“And you’ve met his mother?”
“Yes, she and his father are frequent attendees of the various events we hold here.”
Amberley hadn’t done much research into the elusive CEO other than what the first page of Google told her and for a moment, she wished she had.
The elevator doors opened on the penthouse floor. They were greeted by a chipper woman with long black hair who ushered them into a conference room, asking if they’d like coffee or water or anything else.
“I’ll take a water, Miss Lane, thank you,” Marjorie replied, turning to Amberley.
“Nothing for me, thanks,” Amberley replied.
‘Miss Lane’ bobbed and left, holding the door for a man entering at the same time.
“Ah. Amberley, this is James Vance. He’s one of our attorneys on retainer. Mr. Vance, this is Amberley Quinn.”
Amberley thought she recognized the balding man from a courtroom or two. “Mr. Vance,” she acknowledged him, extending a hand which he shook briefly.
“Miss Quinn. A pleasure to meet you.”
Amberley nodded and he gestured to the chairs around the conference table. “Please, take a seat.”
Amberley hated interviews. She liked to be the one asking the questions, not answering them. Mr. Vance leaned down and said something in Marjorie’s ear. Amberley thought the woman rolled her eyes. “Very well,” she said quietly, and the attorney sat down.
Miss Lane returned with Marjorie’s water and asked the newcomer if he wanted anything, which he declined. She left again.
Amberley sat and put her briefcase on the floor within easy reach, in case she needed it. It didn’t seem to matter, though. Marjorie pulled a tablet out from…somewhere and Amberley recognized her letterhead on the screen. Her resume.
“I’ll admit,” Marjorie said. “Despite your short career, it has been quite impressive. A shame about Carter & Franklin, though.”
Amberley grimaced. She’d figured that would be a quickly raised topic. “Yes,” she replied carefully. “It came as quite a shock to all of us.”
“They were well-regarded,” Marjorie said, scrolling through the words on the screen. “Until the end, at least.”
Amberley nodded, unsure of what the woman expected her to say.
“I have to ask,” Mr. Vance said. “Did you have any idea of what was happening?”
“Absolutely not,” Amberley replied firmly. “And if I had, I would have reported it myself.”
“Is that so?” Marjorie said, raising an eyebrow. Amberley wondered for the briefest of moments if maybe that had been a stupid answer. Corporations weren’t big fans of whistleblowers.
Nevertheless, she straightened her shoulders and nodded. “Yes ma’am. They were stealing from my clients. Attorney-client privilege I take very seriously, of course, but not working for a felon.”
She sincerely hoped the CEO wasn’t a felon.
Marjorie smiled lopsidedly. “I can assure you, Miss Quinn, we don’t take kindly to felons here either.”
Amberley let out a breath.
They spent the better part of half an hour going through the finer points of her resume, with Mr. Vance chiming in occasionally to ask more legally pointed questions or to inquire about her experience with specific case law. Her experience was more in defense law, but that had required some working knowledge of real estate and business law, too.
Carter & Franklin didn’t come up again, thank goodness. Mr. Vance did ask her about the Melancon case, though. She wasn’t surprised, considering Ashcroft Industries’ involvement before they were dropped.
They were discussing her time at Columbia when the door opened again.
Amberley felt him before she saw him. That same awareness she’d had at Indigo. She looked up into the intense hazel gaze of none other than Nathaniel Ashcroft.
He was dressed in a tailored three-piece suit of gray that probably cost more than Amberley’s rent. It highlighted his broad shoulders and trim figure better than whatever he’d been wearing at Indigo. Amberley found she couldn’t remember anything but his eyes from that night.
“I apologize for my lateness,” he said, taking a seat at the head of the table. “Conference call ran a bit long.”
“Nothing bad, I hope?” Mr. Vance asked him.
The young CEO shook his curly head. “Everything is fine.” He looked at Amberley. “Miss Quinn. I’m pleased you took me up on my offer.”
Amberley took a steadying breath. “I appreciate the opportunity, Mr. Ashcroft. I’m not sure what kind of CEO gives job opportunities to unemployed attorneys in bars, but I’m glad you did.”
Best he knew now rather than later that she wasn’t here to be his plaything.
Rather than looking affronted, he laughed. Marjorie and the other attorney followed suit. “You’re blunt. I like that.”
“I’ve learned it’s best to establish that in the beginning, rather than surprise an employer or client down the road,” she replied, relaxing at his laughter. “I can be—and am—diplomatic in court, when I have to be, but I insist on honesty between myself and my clients. I am no use to anyone as legal counsel, otherwise.”
“Hm.” Nate leaned back in his chair, absentmindedly stroking his chin as he regarded her. “I take it Carter & Franklin’s scandal didn’t suit you well, then.”
Amberley met his unnerving hazel gaze with her own steely grey one. “No sir.”
“She told us she’d have turned them in herself, if she’d known,” Marjorie chimed in.
The CEO crossed one leg over the other and laced his fingers around his knee. “Is that right?”
“Carter & Franklin did not hire me as a client,” she told him, unsurety firing in the back of her mind. “I’ll defend a client accused of embezzlement to the bitter end, but I won’t risk my career for someone else’s felonies.”
“Nor should you,” he told her firmly. “Be at ease, Miss Quinn. We don’t commit felonies here.” He smiled at her and she felt her cheeks warm. “Though I would hope that, in the event we found ourselves on the wrong side of the law, you’d work with us to remedy that.”
Her face was probably bright pink now. “Of course, Mr. Ashcroft. It’s my job—would be my job—to know the law so you don’t have to.”
His smile widened. “Though I assume your former employers were fully aware of the laws they were breaking,” he pointed out.
“As I told Marjorie before,” she said. “They were stealing from my clients. I had a duty to them, first and foremost.”
“Noble, Miss Quinn,” the CEO acknowledged. “I assume you have already covered the basics of whether or not you are qualified for the role.”
“I…believe so,” Amberley hedged.
Nate turned his gaze to his employees. “What is your verdict, then?”
What…he was going to do this now? Here? In front of her?
The question caught Vance and Marjorie off guard too.
“I…erm. Well, I don’t have any outright concerns,” Marjorie stuttered. “Other than a few…um…unconventional answers to some questions.”
“Like if I would turn you into the feds if you were committing felonies?” Amberley guessed.
The CEO looked at the other attorney. “And her legal experience?”
“Adequate, Mr. Ashcroft,” Vance replied simply, making Amberley bristle just a little. “Defense law, mostly, and good at that. But lacking a bit in the business and real estate area.”
Nate’s gaze swung back to Amberley. “Do you think you can get familiar with those subjects?” he asked her.
She laced her fingers together tightly in her lap. “I’m sure I can, Mr. Ashcroft.”
“Very well.” He looked back at his astonished employees. “Hire her. Mr. Vance, I’m sure you won’t mind staying on retainer for a few weeks to get her up to speed, yes?”
“I…of course, Mr. Ashcroft, but…”
“Sir,” Marjorie interjected. “I’m sorry but this is…we haven’t even discussed…we don’t even know if she’s interested…”
Nate looked back at Amberley staring at him, wide-eyed. “Are you interested in a six-figure salary with six weeks paid vacations and full benefits?”
“I…well, yes of course, sir…”
“It’s settled then,” he declared, rising from his seat as if he hadn’t just sent the whole room into a tailspin. “We’ll see you on Monday, Miss Quinn.”
And just as suddenly as he’d appeared, he’d gone again.
The three of them stared after him.
Marjorie recovered first. “Miss Quinn—Amberley, I apologize. Mr. Ashcroft is…unconventional. I’m sure you’d like some time to think about it…I’ll need time to get the paperwork in order…”
“Is he always like that?” Amberley asked faintly.
“Not…always,” Marjorie replied. “But, once he’s set his mind to something, he has a way of…making things happen.”
“He’s already told you to hire me,” Amberley said. “So I have to ask. Does he have any kind of reputation for…preying on women in his office?”
Marjorie choked on her surprise. “I…no, no, of course not…”
“Miss Quinn,” Mr. Vance interrupted. “Mr. Ashcroft is very rarely seen in the company of young ladies such as yourself. And no, he is very careful to avoid even the appearance of such rumors.”
“You said you’re on retainer,” Amberley said. “What for?”
“The CLO position is a new one,” Marjorie said, recovering herself. “We’ve always outsourced to Mr. Vance’s firm, rather than keep counsel in-house. But…”
“Mr. Ashcroft decided it was time he found his own in-house counsel,” Vance told her. “But I feel it safe to tell you that I have never had to defend him from even an accusation of sexual misconduct.”
“That’s…good, then,” Amberley said, overwhelmed. “I just don’t know why me.”
“Miss Quinn,” Mr. Vance said. “Mr. Ashcroft has…a way with people. Our turnover here is minimal. People Mr. Ashcroft hires…tend to remain in his employ long-term. I’ve learned to just go with it. My colleague, Miss Lowe, here…hasn’t quite learned to trust his instincts, even in her five years here.”
“James!” Marjorie exclaimed. “That’s hardly appropriate.”
The attorney shrugged. “She’ll find out sooner or later.”
“Have you known him longer, then?” Amberley asked. “Since before the company?”
Mr. Vance nodded. “I’ve known him since he was a teenager. His father is an old business colleague of mine.”
This surprised Amberley. “Oh, that’s an interesting history.”
“He had a business idea when he was a teenager and his father introduced us.”
“So, as you can imagine, he’s outgrown the “father’s attorney friend” scope,” he said, but he didn’t look put out by this. In fact, he looked almost relieved.
“Amberley,” Marjorie cut in. “Please, feel free to take some time to think about the role. We’ve hardly begun to discuss what all it would entail.”
“We haven’t,” Amberley replied. “But honestly, Marjorie, all due respect…I’d be stupid not to accept it. Working for Ashcroft Industries is about as high as my career could go, short of entering politics.”
Marjorie sighed. “Yes, well. If you’re sure.”
“Absolutely,” Amberley replied, the sudden overwhelming reality of what she was accepting beginning to hit her.
“I don’t have the paperwork drafted,” the HR director admitted. “Would you mind if I sent it to you via email, later this afternoon? You can e-sign and return to me.”
“No, of course not.”
“Very well.” Marjorie stood and Mr. Vance and Amberley followed suit. The short woman extended her hand across the table to Amberley, who took it. “Welcome to Ashcroft Industries, Miss Quinn.”