The Love Game. Regina Hart

The Love Game - Regina Hart

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      “I need a big account to land a big account or for someone to give me a chance.”

      Iris trailed her friend Cathy Yee through the buffet line during the monthly Marketing Professionals Association luncheon Tuesday afternoon. The group had taken over a banquet room in one of the downtown restaurants. Well-dressed marketing professionals on an extended lunch break packed the dim walnut-wood room. Circular tables covered in white cloths faced the speaker’s podium. Serving stations lined the far walls of the cramped space.

      Iris considered the menu items: potato or chicken-noodle soup, green or pasta salad, turkey or veggie wrap, coffee or water, chocolate chip cookie or fudge brownie. She skipped the salads, and stuck to the meat selections, coffee and both dessert choices.

      “I know. I was there once.” Cathy, a freelance designer who’d been flying solo for almost ten years, passed on the soups, but chose both salads, both wraps, coffee, two fudge brownies and a cookie.

      Iris considered her friend’s waiflike, five-foot-two-inch frame clothed in a black pantsuit with onyx accessories. Where would all that food go?

      “I was so disappointed not to get that contract with Anderson Adventures.” Iris balanced her lunch plate and bowl in one hand, and her coffee cup in another. “It’s as though the three months I’ve spent in my own business has completely wiped out my eight years of experience.”

      Iris frowned as her friend led her to a table toward the back of the banquet room. Cathy usually preferred to sit front and center. Maybe she wasn’t as interested in this afternoon’s social media topic.

      “They make you prove yourself all over again.” Cathy’s voice held more than a touch of irritation.

      “Exactly.” Iris laid her plate, soup bowl and coffee cup on the empty table Cathy had claimed. The benefits of arriving early.

      She and Cathy had met during one of these lunches years ago. They’d become fast friends. Then when Iris had confided in Cathy about the problems she was dealing with at work, Cathy had encouraged her to strike out on her own. The two partnered on many of their projects. Iris’s writing skills allowed Cathy to expand her client services and Cathy provided design work for Iris’s contracts.

      “It’s a good thing you didn’t tell your sisters about the interview.” Cathy’s jaw-length curtain of raven hair swung forward as she pulled her chair under the table.

      That would’ve been bad. “I wanted to land the account before I said anything to them.” Iris added cream to her coffee. “Now I don’t have to explain that my potential client thinks all of my experience leaked out of my brain when I opened my own firm.”

      “It would’ve just given them more ammunition to push you back into working for someone else.”

      Iris hummed her agreement as she sipped her coffee. “So what’s on your mind?”

      “What do you mean?” Cathy sounded distracted. Another sign something was bothering her friend.

      Iris pointed her fork toward Cathy’s plate. “You’ve piled enough carbs and processed sugar on your plate to put you in a coma. Are you still thinking of returning to the wonderful world of corporate dysfunction?”

      Cathy blew a frustrated breath. “The economic recovery is slow and my bills are high. Everything’s gone up.”

      “I understand but just give it a while longer, Cat. Don’t give up on your business yet,” Iris encouraged her friend, thinking she should take her own advice.

      “It’s not just the economy.” Cathy’s words sped up as her annoyance kicked in. “Clients don’t want to pay what we’re worth. They think since their son has a Mac, why should they pay you to design a brochure when he can do it for free? Or their daughter can spell so why should they pay a professional copywriter?”

      “The insane asylum where I used to work had started squeezing vendors that way.”

      “And what’s worse is that these kids, fresh out of college and in many cases untrained, accept this pocket change as their wages instead of researching the industry pay standard.” Cathy’s voice tightened. “It’s insulting.”

      Iris frowned at her turkey wrap. “Yes, it is. Have you considered your sister’s suggestion that you apply to be an adjunct graphic arts professor with her university? It could supplement your business income.”

      “I’m considering it.” Cathy huffed another breath. “I’m not getting any younger, Iris. I’ve got to—”

      “Afternoon, ladies. Mind if we join you?” The male voice interrupted their conversation.

      Iris’s heart sank at Peter Kimball’s request that he and his associate sit at their table. She gritted a smile and lied through her teeth. “Not at all.”

      The seasoned marketing professional and owner of Kimball & Associates sat beside her. His young sidekick, a man Iris didn’t recognize, took the chair to Peter’s left.

      Iris sucked in her breath as Peter extended his hand across her chest to Cathy.

      “Pete Kimball.” The marketing executive gave the designer a toothy smile that didn’t reach his pale blue eyes.

      “We’ve met. Cathy Yee.” Her friend barely acknowledged him before returning to her veggie wrap.

      Peter withdrew his hand, smoothing it over his salt-and-pepper, salon-styled hair. “Oh, yes. You look different. So, Iris, how have you been?”

      “Fine, thank you.” The waves of irritation Cathy generated distracted Iris.

      “I heard you left RGB.” Peter dug into his pasta salad.

      “Yes, four months ago.” She toyed with her chicken-noodle soup.

      “I’ve always admired your talent. I’m sure I can find a place for you on my team.”

      “Thank you but I’m not looking.” Iris suppressed a shudder as she took in his smarmy smile. She considered his deep, golden skin. Was he using a tanning bed? Perhaps that tint came from a can.

      Iris glanced at Peter’s associate. The young man was methodically making his way across his plate.

      “What are you doing, then?” Peter’s smile faded as his gaze sharpened.

      “I’ve opened my own marketing and public relations consulting firm, The Beharie Agency.”

      “Really?” Laughter burst from Peter’s throat. “Starting your own business is a lot of hard work. You don’t have the exp—”

      “I’m ready for more coffee.” Cathy nudged her. “Want some?”

      Iris looked at her still full cup. “Yes.”

      She joined Cathy, leaving the table without excusing herself.

      “What a jackass,” Cathy hissed. “He introduces himself to me every time he comes to this thing. How many Chinese women does he know in Columbus, Ohio, that he can’t remember me?”

      “Consider the source.” Iris was offended on her friend’s behalf. Peter’s laughing in her face when she announced she’d started her own firm didn’t seem so bad in comparison. “I can’t go back to that table with him.”

      “We’ll find another table.”

      “But I left my lunch at that one.” And she was starting to get hungry.

      “Fix yourself another plate.” Cathy led them back to the buffet line. “Now we have even more incentive to succeed. You know what they say.”

      “Living well is the best revenge.”

      Iris looked forward to proving to Kimball & Associates, as well as Anderson Adventures, that they’d underestimated her. She just needed a chance.


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