Adam tapped the end of his pen on the legal notepad in front of him as three more people filed into the conference room and grabbed the remaining open seats around the long table. Including himself, there were six people from the graphic design department. Six more were clustered at the other end of the table. He didn’t recognize all of them, but he knew four of them were from marketing. It was a safe bet that the others in the room had to be from marketing as well.
Graphic designers Kurt and Sean talked in hushed tones next to him, speculating as to why they’d been called into the meeting. No one else was talking; everyone was stiff or frowning. Adam was sure one thing had crossed all their minds: Were they being laid off?
He didn’t want to entertain the idea, even as it created a knot in his stomach. Roland-Wainwright Enterprises was one of the biggest and most prestigious companies in Cincinnati. It was also one of the oldest. Although the company had struggled a bit during the past couple of years, it was still profitable. He couldn’t imagine the executive team would go straight to laying people off in an effort to cut corners.
Besides, it was December 3—Christmas was just a few weeks away. The company had an image of being family oriented and supportive of its employees. How could they make such a douchey move as to let people go right before the holidays?
Clenching his fingers around his pen, Adam forced himself to stare down at his blank notebook and take a few deep breaths. He would not panic. They were not laying off a third of the graphics department. And definitely not some of their best designers. Kurt had been with RWE for nearly a decade and worked on some of the firm’s biggest projects each year. They all thought he was in line to take over the graphics department from Greg when he finally retired. And Kelly was absolutely brilliant; she was the best artist among them by far.
Adam tipped his head up and flashed her a reassuring smile across the table. Kelly’s face was pale, and she worried her bottom lip with her teeth. But then, she had two young kids, and she’d just convinced her husband to quit his job, so he could start his own business from home while staying with the children. For now, they were a one-income family, and he knew she couldn’t face being a no-steady-income family.
Sitting back in his chair, Adam glanced around the room again, taking a closer look at the suits from marketing. They were a stylish and sleek bunch. Three of them were familiar from projects they’d worked on together. But in the end, they all looked the same to him with their easy smiles and “we can do it” attitude, which really translated into “You can do it now because nothing is as important as the project I need you on.”
And, of course, the worst of them was seated at the far end of the table. Jason Edmond had to be the most ambitious of them all. He was a stickler for deadlines and details, and everything had to be done his way. It didn’t matter that Adam had gone to college for art and graphic design. It didn’t matter that Adam had worked on hundreds of projects before Jason’s. The guy was just sure that he knew best at all times. Absolute control freak.
To twist the knife a little deeper, Jason was also hot as hell. The guy stood more than six feet tall with thick, wavy, dark hair and the perfect amount of scruff on his cheeks to be stylish without looking like he forgot to shave that morning. He had these great lips, but they weren’t often seen because he spent way too much time frowning or pressing them together like he was holding in criticism.
Jason briefly nodded at Adam. He returned it before quickly looking back down at his paper, snapping himself out of his daydreams. He hadn’t even realized that he was fucking staring. Jason was definitely off limits. Adam never screwed around with people that he worked with—it never ended well.
And Jason was probably the type to bitch his way through a blowjob if it wasn’t done precisely to his specifications.
Was Jason even gay?
Didn’t matter. Off limits.
Adam had never bothered to hide his orientation. After living out and free in California during college, he saw no point in trying to hide again. Several at the company were more hesitant because they had aspirations for the C-suite. Too many studies had been released recently about how gay men were stuck in middle management.
Of course, CFO Spenser Roland came out in grand fashion nearly two years ago to the entire Board of Directors, including his bigoted grandfather, but it didn’t really help to settle fears. Spenser was the son of the CEO. People were more willing to believe he was a special case rather than the new rule.
Any other speculation on Jason and the rest of their fate snapped to a halt when the double glass doors leading into the conference room were pulled open. CEO James Roland strode in followed by Sharon Dryer, the chief of marketing. Adam sat up a little straighter in his chair along with everyone else in the room.
James Roland was a straight-talking, barrel-chested man who didn’t give a damn about procedures, protocols, or hierarchies. When the man had a question, he went straight to the person who had the answers, whether that was his CFO or just some guy who delivered his lunch. He had no problems admitting when he didn’t understand something, and he appreciated it if you just told it to him straight.
Adam had been lucky enough to participate in a couple of meetings with the CEO. His most terrifying moment was admitting to the CEO that he thought a planned marketing campaign for one of their health products was utter garbage. He’d been able to clearly outline why it was garbage and give three good alternatives.
In response, James had laughed and said that Adam had finally verbalized the problems that he’d not been able to put his finger on. Of course, that outspoken moment had landed him the job of working with Jason to come up with an entirely new campaign and launch schedule.
James walked up to the front of the room and all eyes followed him. He smiled and lifted both his hands like he was a priest bestowing a blessing on the assembled employees.
“Everyone take a deep breath. No one is getting laid off,” he started.
It was like the tension in the room snapped all at once. There were more than a few nervous chuckles and audible exhales. Adam worked hard to keep his expression blank while his heart skipped a couple of beats in joy. He hadn’t really thought he was up to be laid off; it didn’t make any logical sense. But when times were tough, logic didn’t always apply.
“I’m sorry if that’s what you thought. I reached out to Sharon and Greg this morning, asking that they give me their six best people for a special project. They didn’t get any details until about twenty minutes ago because I was still working them out.” James paused and gave a small, self-deprecating smile as he dropped his arms back down to his sides. The CEO looked around the room, briefly meeting the gaze of each person as if he were trying to remember their names.
“Special project” had a nice ring to it. After being with the company for less than a year, Adam was quickly moved away from a set group of products like most of the graphic designers and assigned to what Greg liked to call his “problem children.” These were projects that were either significantly larger in scope, unusual, or just problematic due to whom they involved. Most graphic designers he knew would have balked at the assignment, but he loved it. He loved the variety and he loved cracking difficult problems. He didn’t even mind the high-maintenance clients.
And special projects always looked great on the résumé. Not that he was at all looking to leave RWE. But it didn’t hurt to have your ass covered if layoffs did suddenly happen.
“Roland-Wainwright had a tough year,” James admitted. “We are still going to finish the year profitable, but considering the overall health of the economy, we didn’t grow as much as expected. And I feel part of it is due to the fact that we took some hits in the press over the past couple of years. We’ve made some mistakes that we fully acknowledge, and we’ve made changes from the top down to make sure we never make those mistakes again.”
James paused. His shoulders slumped a little, and new lines crisscrossed over his forehead, as if he took those mistakes personally. Adam had a feeling that he was thinking of his son. Spenser’s coming out had not gone well, and a person only had to see the two men in the room together for a minute to see James’s absolute love for his son.
“But the damage was done, and it’s left a bad taste in the mouths of people. Our customers haven’t come back to us. I think it’s time to reach out and show them why we are worthy of their business.”
Adam shifted to the edge of his seat, his pen poised over his notepad. This was definitely getting good. This was a huge project. The company image. This was going to involve major money, long-term planning, and imagery, themes, and tonal notes that would be woven into nearly every marketing project going forward for at least a year—if it was successful. Was it wrong that he was nearly sporting wood to be a part of this project?
“But I don’t want to put all my eggs in a single basket for this project,” James continued. “Six teams will be created—each consisting of one graphic designer and one marketer. The teams will have approximately two weeks to come up with a marketing campaign that will help to define the company and put us back into a positive light. Presentations will be made to the executive team on Monday, December seventeenth. The hope is that we will have one presentation that blows us away. The creators of that campaign will get a year-end bonus of twenty-five thousand dollars each.”
There was a hushed exclamation that swept through the room. Adam circled the number several times, trying to get the figure to actually sink into his brain. That was insane. It was nearly half a year’s salary. That was a big chunk of a down payment on a house. Or maybe a killer vacation. It was a hell of a safety net.
Adam wanted to win. And it wasn’t just about the bonus. It was bragging rights. It was being able to say that he came up with the campaign that defined Roland-Wainwright Enterprises. It was being able to say that he worked on the campaign that would be seen on TVs, billboards, and websites around the globe.
James clapped his hands together and rubbed them, capturing everyone’s attention again. “Well, I’m sure you’re all excited to get started on this. Sharon is going to send out details on your expected budget and other information, so you can appropriately scale your proposals. She’s got the teams lined up. Good luck.”
Giving a little wave, James left and was replaced by a slender woman in a pantsuit and blonde hair pulled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. Adam tried not to look around the table again. He knew several members of the marketing team, but only three of the ones in the room. He’d actually worked more one-on-one with Sharon on some special projects. She knew exactly how much information to give him so that he could work without hindering his creativity. It would have been great if he could have been teamed up with her, but he could almost guess who he was going—
“Jason, you’re with Adam Reynolds,” Sharon announced as she started reading names off the list.
Adam barely managed to keep from swearing aloud. Of course. Jason fucking Edmond.
Yes, the guy was good at what he did. He had a good feel for his audience and a way with words. But fuck, he was going to suck the creativity and spark right out of this project. They might win the $25,000 bonus, but Adam was pretty sure that he was going to need it to pay his defense lawyer when he eventually threw Jason out a window or beat him with a keyboard.
Looking up, he saw Kelly wincing at him before giving him a supportive smile. Yeah, he might have been a little vocal about his dislike for the man when they’d last worked together. Definitely not the most professional moment of his life, but Jason had a knack for getting under his skin and pushing every one of his goddamn buttons.
Adam kept his eye on the legal pad where he’d scratched out a few high-level notes. The biggest note, of course, was the bonus, but his brain was already starting to churn through possible ideas, tossing several aside while searching for that perfect angle. He needed to research. Get out and walk around. Talk to people. Ideas would come. He never got his best designs while sitting behind a computer.
Before he knew it, the meeting ended. His coworkers jumped up. They left in small clusters as teams started mapping out their plans and brainstorming sessions. Adam had barely gotten to his feet when Jason darted around the table to his side. For a man his size, he was surprisingly adept at weaving between the people. Jason had at least four inches on him, and Adam really didn’t care to look up at the man. He preferred to meet at his desk where they were both sitting, talking eye to eye.
“Let’s spend the first two days researching,” Jason said by way of greeting. “I’ll reserve one of the huddle rooms for Wednesday. We’ll get together then and lay out our initial thoughts and ideas. Two days of brainstorming should get us to the best idea.”
“Set it up,” Adam said with a small nod. No point in arguing. He’d planned to research on his own anyway. This way he had at least two days without Jason hovering over him and shooting down his every suggestion.
His phone vibrated in his hand, and he looked at it to see the fifteen-minute warning for his next meeting. Yeah…his other projects.
Sharon had said something about handing over all current tasks to members of his team so that Adam could focus exclusively on this project. Handing off his current projects wasn’t going to be a quick and painless process. That alone was going to take most of the day, and he had a feeling that at least one would require him to shadow it for a while.
Jason, James, and the life-changing special assignment would have to wait.