New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels has a passion for romance that stems from her other joys in life-her family, animals and historic homes. She is usually found in South Carolina, where she is either tapping out stories on her computer or completing some kind of historical restoration.
Whoever coined the phrase "Blue Monday" had certainly known what he was talking about, Caren Ainsley thought morosely from her desk in the typing pool of Rayven Cosmetics. It was raining in New York City proverbial cats and dogs, and had been for several days. The rent was due in two days, and if this weather continued, she wouldn't be able to make her class at the community college where she was enrolled in a secretarial course.
Impatiently, Caren brushed at a feather of hair that kept eluding the tight bun at the back of her head. She frowned and her glasses slipped down on her nose. Darn it, when were her contacts going to be ready? She frowned again. Even if they were ready today it would be another three weeks before she could save the money to pay for them. She brightened momentarily when she visualized the day she would get them and then, voilà, she would be an instant beauty with gorgeous men throwing themselves at her feet. She would also get a new hairdo, of course, to go with the fantastic job she would have once she had finished her secretarial course in a few weeks.
A new life, sort of. Off with the old Caren and on with the new. She shouldn't be thinking about that now, not with all the work sitting unfinished on her desk. It was Secretary Week, or so the sign hanging in the outer office said. With all the secretaries at Rayven Cosmetics out to a fantastic lunch, she was holding down the fort, along with her supervisor, Maggie Bryant.
"Caren, stop what you're doing and come with me," ordered an agitated voice from behind the partition in the long typing-pool room. "Hurry, please."
"What is it, Miss Bryant? Did I do something wrong?" Caren asked in a fearful voice.
"Good heavens no, child. On the contrary, you've done something right by taking that secretarial course. It's going to pay off for you right now. Listen to me carefully, Caren. As you know, all of the secretaries are attending the company lunch in their honor, but right now there's a board meeting going on, and Marc Rayven just called down for a secretary to sit in. I'm giving you your chance for promotion, Caren. I've seen your stenographic skills, and I know that you're the fastest typist, not to mention the most accurate, in the pool. If you do a good job now, you might be able to move up to a better position instead of looking elsewhere for a job once your course is finished. You have to hurry. Mr. Rayven is not known for his patience, and you know all about his assistant, Moira. If you're even moments late, she would have no compunction about slicing you to ribbonsin front of all the board members," Maggie Bryant said in somber tones.
"But, Miss Bryant, I've never met any of those people. I'm not sure I'm good enough or fast enough to handle this. Are you sure there isn't someone else?"
"Caren, there is no one else. Look around. You know the other girls will be out longer for lunch today. And the only reason you didn't go to the park to eat was because you didn't want to go out in the rain. If you give up this lunch hour, I'll allow you to leave an hour early this evening. Or another day for that matter. Please say you'll do it. I think you can handle it," the older woman said firmly.
"But but look how I'm dressed. If I had known, I would have worn a suit or something," Caren protested.
"You look tailored and that's all that matters.A navy blue skirt and white tailored blouse is fitting in any office. Don't worry, I spoke with Mr. Rayven myself and told him I was sending you, and I explained that you were almost finished with your course. I recommended you so highly, Caren, that you can't let me down now."
"All right, I'll do it, but I'll have butterflies in the pit of my stomach the whole time. I need a steno pad and some sharp pencils. Walk with me to the conference room, Miss Bryant?"
Caren took a deep breath and stared at her reflection in the window. She looked plainplain and neat. She brushed back a stray wisp of soft brown hair from her brow and nudged her heavy-rimmed glasses back on her nose. Horror of horrors, her hands were shaking. How could she take dictation? She couldn't. Yes, she could, and she would! She was at the head of her class, and if Maggie Bryant had faith in her ability, that was enough for her.
Another deep breath. Marc Rayven. She was actually going to sit at the conference table and take down his dictation and notes of the meeting. Wait till the other girls in the typing pool heard this. Handsome, debonair, and don't forget, dashing, she told herself; Marc Rayven, president and chairman of the board of Rayven Cosmetics, was all these things.
The profile she had read just a few short months ago in the Sunday supplement said he was a thirty-five-year-old genius and well on his way to building an empire in the cosmetics industry. The article had hinted at a new, top-secret line of cosmetics that would either place Rayven at the top of the business or at the bottom. The article had gone on to cite quotes from the other prominent figures in the industry, and Caren had been amazed to find Rayven described as "ruthless," "mercenary," a "playboy," and in other terms far less complimentary.
"Here you go, Caren, three fresh pencils and a brand new steno book. Hurry, you have only a few minutes. I want you in there before the meeting gets under way. Make me proud of you, Caren," the older woman said fondly. With a last gentle pat on her shoulder, Maggie withdrew, leaving Caren to stand alone in front of the closed conference-room door.
Moistening her dry lips, Caren knocked softly and then took a step backward. Moira Evans opened the door, her patrician features haughty and aloof. "You must be Miss Ainsley. We've been waiting for you." She made it sound like "we" had been waiting for hours! Caren glanced around. The board members weren't seated and Marc Rayven was not in attendance. Caren's head went up a little higher as she stood quietly, waiting to be told where she was to sit. She was getting a headache. The perfume Moira Evans was wearing was not going to sit well with Caren. It was overpowering, heady to the point of being sickening. She knew it wasn't a Rayven perfume. Rayven perfumes were all subtle, yet alluring, and they didn't overpower the way Moira's scent was doing.
"Sit here, Miss Ainsley," Moira said, motioning to a chair next to the head of the table.
Caren quietly advanced across the room to take her assigned seat at the long conference table.
Moira Evans dismissed Caren with a nod. "Ladies, gentlemen, please be seated. Marc, Mr. Rayven, asked me to get the meeting under way. He's going to be a few minutes late as you can see."
Chairs were pulled out from the incredibly long, polished table as the board members took their seats. Cigarettes were lit, pads and pencils shifted from one spot to another. Muted conversations wafted through the high vaulted room as Caren made herself nearly comfortable in the plush high-backed chair at one end of the gleaming table. In spite of her resolution to appear efficient and experienced, Caren's eyes began to wander from the soft celery-green carpet that practically swallowed your ankles when you walked on it to the even softer-colored celery-green walls that rose majestically to the fifteen-foot ceilings. A corner office, it had two walls of wraparound glass; through filmy yards of draperies, these walls displayed an exquisite view of New York's East Side. Along the other two sides of the rectangular room were low white sofas and before them stood heavy, square, glass cocktail tables. The only splashes of color came from the Manet paintings hung above the sofas, illuminated by their own gleaming brass lights.
Moira Evans stood at the head of the conference table waiting until the members of the board realized that she was not going to speak until she had their undivided attention. Caren had to admire the woman's poise as she stood there, still as a statue, eyes flashing, mouth grim. Eventually, the room stilled.
Caren waited expectantly, her pencil poised, ready to begin her notes of the meeting. There was no doubt in her mind that Moira Evans belonged in a cosmetics firm. The woman's makeup was perfection and the expensive Halston suit she wore molded her slim form perfectly, its willow gray outlining her incredibly slim figure. Every jet-black hair was in its place, swinging freely about her face and ending bluntly just above the snow-white collar of her Oscar de la Renta blouse. Every male eye in the room was on Marc Rayven's assistant; Moira knew it and preened beneath it. The woman nodded her head to acknowledge the silence and prepared to speak from a sheaf of papers held in her manicured hand. It appeared to Caren as though this was Miss Evans's grand moment, a moment she had anticipated and relished. She was going to bring a meeting to order in place of the company's president.
Suddenly the conference-room doors swung open as if some unleashed hurricane had made landfall. A whirlwind entered in its wake in the personage of Marc Rayven. He waved airily at the assembled board and motioned with one hand for Moira to stand aside. What a pity, Caren thought uncharitably, Miss Evans's grand moment dashed to splinters by the entrance of a hurricane.
Marc Rayven was imposing, an electric personality. He threw himself into his chair at the head of the table. "I'll take it from here, Moira." His voice was clipped, cool, professional. For one instant Moira stiffened and Caren expected her to defend her position at the head of the table. Apparently, Miss Evans thought better of it and gracefully took her seat across from Caren.
Rayven shuffled his papers and then lifted his head to stare at Caren. He frowned and Caren's heart fluttered. "You must be the secretary."
"This is the girl who'll take the minutes of the meeting, Marc," Moira said coolly as she stared straight into Caren's eyes.
Caren's shoulders straightened. "My name is Caren Ainsley, Mr. Rayven; I'm from the typing pool." Caren spoke quietly, surprised that her voice was so confident.
"Now I remember; Maggie spoke to me about you. I won't need you after all. But take a seat just in case."
"Thank you, Mr. Rayven." Caren melted when he smiled down at her. It was almost as if the room were empty and they had a secret between them. It was that kind of smile, she decided.
As he prepared his notes, Caren watched him. He was handsome, more so than his pictures in the society columns. How aptly named he was, with his hair the black of a raven's wing. And his eyes were deep blue, almost turquoise. A definitely handsome combination, she mused. Evidently, Moira thought so too because Caren was receiving the most malevolent look she had ever received in her life. And that look could mean only one thing. Moira Evans saw Marc Rayven as her special property.
Caren relaxed. Moira Evans couldn't do anything to her. Not here in this conference room or outside it either for that matter. She didn't know how she knew, she just knew that Marc Rayven would protect her. Whoever the journalist was who had said he was ruthless didn't know this Marc Rayven. So much for profiles in Sunday supplements.
Leaning back in his chair and tossing the stack of papers he was holding onto the shining surface of the table, Marc Rayven spoke. "Let me begin by saying that this is not a formal meeting. I would prefer at this time to consider it a sort of open discussion." He waited for comment. When none was forthcoming, he continued. "I say that we go with the enfleurage method for the new perfume line. I know," he said holding up his hand to quell the disagreements, "it's the most expensive method, but this is a one-of-a-kind perfume. If we use distillation, we'll end up selling it to the dime stores. I want all of you to think along the lines of an entire linefrom cosmetics to toiletries to perfumeall bearing the same name. I want this scent on every woman in America. I want them talking about it. I want it blitzed from one end of the country to the other. After we do that, we'll tackle the foreign markets, but this is an American perfume, made by an American manufacturer and at this time we're aiming exclusively for the American woman. A woman like Caren Ainsley." His gaze fell on her and something in it warmed her cheeks. "We're going to give the American woman," he continued, "a line of her owncologne, toilet water, lipsticks, bath powders, and oils.
"You other ladies," he said, addressing the female members of the board, "can afford to pamper yourselves with expensive French perfumes. But it's time we began to think of the average American woman. She's got as much right as the rest of you to want a scent that's within her means. And I plan to give it to her. Let's kick it around a little. What we want is a perfume with sensitivity, a perfume that wears for all seasons. Most of all, we want a scent that becomes a woman's own the instant she puts it on."
"That's impossible, Marc," one of the men at the other end of the table insisted.