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“Jeez, c’mon already.” Grace Snow’s eyes flicked to her wristwatch. Today of all days was not the time to be late. Not when her stepmother waited for her like a spider in her web. This was Grace’s chance to take Snow Industries into the future, and she refused to let that awful woman stop her.
Snow Industries was an international brand her father founded years ago, God rest his soul. If she learned anything from him, it was a well-aimed stone could start a major ripple. Even in a company as big as Snow. Maybe she’d get lucky and smack her stepmother between the eyes as well. Two birds, one stone. Especially when one of those birds was a vulture.
Gracie dragged in a steadying breath, the tap-tap of her high-heeled boots echoing in the marble lobby. Exhaling, she jabbed the up button again. The company’s elevators were notoriously slow, then again, it wouldn’t be the first time someone used the confined space for a quickie. A cheap version of the mile-high club.
Finally, the elevator dinged. “About time,” she mumbled, fishing in her purse for her key card. She strode, head down, through the doors, crashing straight into a very hard, very masculine chest. The startled rush that left her mouth was almost comical.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see—” Strong hands shot out to steady her, and when she lifted her eyes her breath locked in her throat, even as her fingers gripped his forearm.
The man had given her butterflies since he started working for her father nearly ten years ago. Of course, she was barely out of college then, and her father was still alive, but the years hadn’t changed Adam much. He was more chiseled and mature, and as sexy as ever.
Of all people she could run into in the semi-privacy of an empty elevator, it had to be him. Self-conscious, Grace ignored the heat racing to her cheeks. If she hadn’t overslept, she would have taken more care this morning instead of throwing on random leggings and a long sweater. At least her hair and makeup were done, sort of, and she was wearing heels instead of sneakers.
As the head of Snow Industries’ security, Adam and his team not only secured the company’s brick and mortar properties, but also their cyber real estate and e-commerce. Nothing got through his firewall, professionally or personally.
The closest she’d get to tasting if he was as good as he looked was the X-rated dreams she still had about him. Adam Hunt was a gorgeous mystery and completely off limits. Or, at least, that’s what her stepmother claimed. Company policy on fraternization and conflict of interest, yadda, yadda. Truth was, he was out of her league. On that point, Grace couldn’t argue with her stepmother.
“Easy there, killer. You’d better slow down or you’ll hurt yourself,” he said, helping to steady her. “Board meeting can’t start without you, regardless of what the dragon lady says.” He winked, and then let go of her arms.
Grace watched him slip his hand from her arm, her skin tingling from the innocent touch. What would those hands feel like on her softer parts? She swallowed, squashing the wayward thought.
I really need to get a life…and get laid. Preferably in that order.
She gave him an awkward smile and stepped past him into the elevator. That Adam had referred to her stepmother as the dragon lady spoke volumes. From the simple comment, it sounded like Margot was making friends and influencing people all over the place.
Her stepmother, Margot Rayne Snow, former model and acting CEO of Snow Industries, was one tough cookie. Her father married her about a year or so after Gracie’s mother died, and somehow the witch managed to secure control of everything her father built before his body was even cold.
At Adam’s close proximity, Grace swallowed against the butterflies in her stomach and forced herself to speak. “Does everyone know Margot and I are not on the same page?” she asked.
It was a rhetorical question, really. She was always at odds with the old cow. Snow Industries, and more specifically, Snow Cosmetics, was run like a family where everyone knew everyone. Corporate secrets didn’t stay secrets for long. Loyalty ran high and turnover stayed low. At least, that’s the way it was when her father was at the helm.
Five years. That’s how long it had been since his funeral. Grace was already working abroad at their Paris division, yet when her father got sick, she flew home immediately. His last request was that she remain in Paris and build their brand internationally. He trusted Margot and their domestic board of directors to take care of things on the home front.
Snow Cosmetics was losing market share on a daily basis, so much so, it put the entire company at risk. So, she came home for one reason. Arthur Finch, her father’s attorney, had called. They needed a miracle. In his words, they needed her.
“Everyone’s really glad you’re back, Grace.” Adam flashed a soft smile. “Margot isn’t—” he paused, “well, let’s just say she isn’t your dad, God rest his soul.”
God, his gorgeous smile still made her legs weak. She inhaled, lifting her chin to meet his gaze. “Tell me something I don’t know. Why Dad trusted Margot, I’ll never know. It’s like she held him spellbound, but then again, if anyone knows how to work their assets, it’s Mommy Dearest.”
Amused, he smirked. “The Stepmonster Advantage.”
A quick grin took her lips. “You remember that?”
Nodding, he shrugged. “You were pretty clever back then, Grace.” He paused. “My guess is you still are.”
“I should never have stayed abroad.” She exhaled. “Why Arthur thinks I can pull a rabbit out of a hat and fix things is beyond me. I’ve been out of the loop forever.”
He smiled. “From what I hear, you’re already way ahead of the game and your stepmother isn’t too happy about it.”
“What? You mean Mirror-Mirror?” she asked, tilting her head in surprise. “It’s just a mobile app I built with a Google app builder. Nothing fancy. I showed the prototype to our I.T. guys and they ran with it.”
The elevator dinged at the top floor and the doors slid open. Adam stood to one side, letting Grace out first. “Well, fancy or not, whatever you did, it raised morale. Every cubical in the building is buzzing.”
Grace walked beside him, but didn’t comment. Music floated down the corridor from her stepmother’s office, letting her know the calm before the inevitable storm was over. Margot’s office was more apartment than workplace, with a separate bedroom and full bath that she had installed shortly after the death of Grace’s father. What her stepmother needed it for, Grace didn’t want to know, but her gut said that’s how Margot stayed so popular with their mostly male board.
“For God’s sake! Shut that music off! I can’t hear myself think.” Margot’s voice traveled through the door as she yelled at her assistant.
Grace cringed. “Poor Violet. I don’t know how she does it. As a daughter, I have to put up with Margot’s tirades, but she doesn’t.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Sounds like Margot is raring to go already, but my money’s on you, little bird.”
The only other person to call her that was her father, and that Adam remembered made her heart squeeze. This time he lifted a hand to tuck a stray hair behind her ear. “Chin up, no matter what she pulls, right?”
She nodded. “See you in the boardroom?”
He laughed. “Front row. I’ll bring the popcorn.”
Grace watched him walk the length of the hall before she turned toward Margot’s office. Sucking in a breath, she held it a moment and then knocked. “Hi—” she said, poking her head in the door. “You texted you wanted to see me before the meeting. Here I am. As requested.”
Margot’s eyes swept Grace from head to toe as she walked in and closed the door behind her. “For God’s sake, Gracie, you’re in charge of the marketing for a multi-million-dollar cosmetics giant. You could at least try to make yourself presentable.”
First dig of the morning. “And hello to you to, stepmother dear.”
“Don’t get cute.” Margot eyed her. “Considering the stir you’ve caused around here, you might want to play by the rules for once. We’re meeting the board, not your book club at the local Starbucks.” She snapped her fingers. “Violet, see what I have in my closet that will fit Miss Grace.”
Shaking her head, Grace crossed her arms. “I’m twenty-eight years old, Margot, not eight. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m wearing. I like my style, even if you don’t.”
“It looks like something you’d wear to a hippie sit in, not the board of a Fortune 500 company,” Margot sniffed. “With all your time in Paris, I had hoped you’d come back with a little more sophistication. You’re not in academia anymore, Grace, though you have enough degrees to qualify as a perpetual student. Why Oliver insisted you stay abroad is beyond me, if not to teach you a little taste.”
“Well, having an MBA in business management and a master’s degrees in both advertising and sales might have something to do with my father’s decision.”
“Like I said, you’re an overgrown student. And speaking of overgrown, don’t you think it’s time you took advantage of the company gym? You’ve been home for six months, Grace. Get it together and get in shape. You’ve got to represent—” she flashed a practiced, camera-ready smile. “Like me.”
Grace caught Violet’s eye roll and she bit the inside of her cheek, trying not to laugh. “Give it a rest, Margot. Anyone would think my time abroad and my degrees came out of your pocket. I have my inheritance and you have yours. Don’t concern yourself with my looks, my weight, or anything else having to do with me. I do just fine, thank you very much.”
Margot looked at Grace from the reflection in her mirror. “Don’t concern myself? You come back from France and launch some tacky phone app, and suddenly everyone’s questioning where this company is going?” She put down the lipstick in her hand. “It’s true you have yours and I have mine, but Snow Industries is my domain. As for you doing fine—” she crooked her fingers in quotation marks. “In what fantasy are you living? You’re a pretty girl, Gracie, but fat, snarky, and full of yourself is no way to go through life.”
That comment was point blank and aimed to get a rise. Well, who was she to disappoint? “No, it’s better to go through life bitchy and—old and dying of hunger, like you, right?” At the look on her stepmother’s face, Grace shook her head. “I’m sorry, Margot, but you and I have gone ‘round and ‘round this same argument for years, and I’m done. I’m not you. I’ve never wanted to be you. So, let’s stay on task, eh? Yes, I launched an app. If you took your eyes off your reflection for one minute and read the report on your desk, you’d see this is a good thing.
“As for the company, I think you’re confusing brand management with ownership. Snow Cosmetics may be your domain, but that’s only one part of Snow Industries. Like me, you don’t own controlling shares. We each own forty percent, leaving the remaining twenty percent split among the board of directors. In this company, we vote on everything, remember?”
Chuckling, Margot lifted the lipstick again and applied it to her perfectly-lined lips. “Elections are fickle things, like men.”
“Yes,” Grace nodded. “But there’s one thing men want even more than a willing, though somewhat conniving, pussy.” She smirked at how Margot’s hand froze again. “They want a strong bottom line. With that, they can get all the bottoms they want.”
The older woman slammed her lipstick on her granite vanity, splintering the fancy tube, but Grace didn’t blink. Her stepmother no longer made her flinch.
“The board’s waiting. Shall we?”