Marvin's toupee was slightly off-center and he was wearing his standard smile, one that promised low mileage to the public in general and headaches to Shay Kendall in particular. She sat up a little straighter in her chair and looked across the wide polished plains of her employer's desk to the view outside the window behind him. Thousands of red, yellow and blue triangular flags were snapping in the wind, a merry contrast to the cloudy coastal sky.
"I'm an office manager, Marvin," Shay said with a sigh, bringing wide hazel eyes back to his friendly face, "not an actress. While I enjoy helping plan commercials, I don't see myself in front of the camera."
"I've been promising Jeannie this trip to Europe for years," Marvin said pointedly.
Richard Barrett, a representative of an advertising agency in nearby Seattle, was leaning back against a burgeoning bookshelf, his arms folded across his chest. He was tall, with nicely cut brown hair, and would have been handsome if not for the old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses he wore. "You're Rosamond Dallas's daughter," he put in. "Besides, I know a hundred women who would give anything for a chance like this."
Shay pushed back a lock of long, layer-cut brown hair to rub one temple with her fingers, then lifted her head, giving Mr. Barrett an ironic look. "A chance like what, Richard? You make this sound as though it's a remake of The Ten Commandments instead of a thirty-second TV spot where I get a dump-truck load of sugar poured over me and say, 'We've got a sweet deal for you at Reese Motors in Skyler Beach!' Furthermore, I fail to see what my being Rosamond's daughter has to do with anything."
Marvin was sitting back in his leather chair and smiling, probably at the image of Shay being buried under a half ton of white sugar. "There would be a sizable bonus involved, of course," he reflected aloud.
He hadn't mentioned a bonus on Friday afternoon, when he'd first presented Shay with a storyboard for a commercial starring herself rather than the infamous "Low-Margin Marvin."
Shay sighed, thinking of all the new clothes her six-year-old son, Hank, would need before school started and of the retirement savings account she wanted to open but couldn't afford. "How much of a bonus?" she asked, disliking Richard Barrett for the smug look that flickered briefly in his blue eyes.
Marvin named a figure that would cover the savings and deposit payment and any amount of jeans, sneakers, jackets and T-shirts for Hank, with money left over.
"Just for one commercial? That's all I'd have to do?" Shay hated herself for wavering, but she was in no position to turn her back on so much money. While she earned a good salary working as Reese Motors's office manager and general all-around troubleshooter, it took all she could scrape together to support herself and her small son and meet the property taxes on her mother's enormous, empty house. Lord in heaven, she thought, if only someone would come along and buy that house
Marvin and Richard exchanged indulgent looks. "If you hadn't stomped out of here on Friday," Richard said smoothly, "I would have gone on to explain that we're discussing a series of four spots, thirty seconds each. That's a lot of money for two minutes' work, Shay."
Two minutes' work. Shay was annoyed and insulted. Nobody knew better than she did that a thirty-second commercial could take days to perfect; she'd fetched enough antacid tablets for Marvin and made enough conciliatory telephone calls to his wife to know. "I'm an office manager," she repeated, somewhat piteously this time.
"And a damned good one!" Marvin thundered. "I don't know what we'd have done without you all this time!"
Shay looked back over the half dozen years since she'd come to work for Marvin Reese. She had started as a receptionist and the job had been so important to her that she'd made any number of mistakes in her attempts to do it well. Marvin had been kind and his wife, Jeannie, had been a real friend, taking Shay out to lunch on occasion, helping her to find a trustworthy babysitter for Hank, reassuring her.
In many ways, Jeannie Reese had been a mother to Shay during those harried, scary days of new independence. Rosamondnobody had suspected that her sudden tendency toward forgetfulness and fits of temper was the beginning of Alzheimer's diseasehad been living on a rancho in Mexico then, with her sixth and final husband, blissfully unconcerned with her daughter's problems.
Now, sitting there in Marvin's spacious, well-appointed office, Shay felt a sting at the memory. She had telephoned her mother right after her ex-husband, Eliott, then principal of a high school in a small town in Oregon, had absconded with the school's sizable athletic fund and left his young and decidedly pregnant wife to deal with the consequences. Rosamond had said that she'd warned Shay not to marry an older man, hadn't she, and that she would love to send money to help out but that that was impossible, since Edu-ardo had just bought a Thoroughbred racehorse and transporting the beast all the way from Kentucky to the Yucatan peninsula had cost so much.
Shay wrenched herself back to the present moment and met Marvin's fatherly gaze. She knew then that, even without the bonus check, she would have agreed to be in his commercials. He had believed in her when she had jumbled important files and spilled coffee all over his desk and made all the salesmen on the floor screaming mad by botching up their telephone messages. He had paid for the business courses she'd taken at the junior college and given her regular raises and promotions.
He was her friend.
"It's an offer I can't refuse," she said softly. It was no use asking for approval of the storyboards; Marvin's style, which had made him a virtual legend among car dealers, left no room for temperament. Three years before, at Thanksgiving, he'd dressed up as a turkey and announced to the viewing public that Reese Motors was gobbling up good trade-ins.
Marvin unearthed his telephone from underneath a mountain of paper and dialed a number. "Jeannie? Shay's going to take over the commercials for me. Dust off your passport, honeywe're going on the trip!"
Shay rose from her chair and left Marvin's office for the sanctity of her own smaller one, only to be followed by a quietly delighted Richard.
"I have three of the four storyboards ready, if you'd like to look them over," he offered.
"Why does Marvin want me to do this?" Shay complained belatedly. "Why not one of the salesmen or some actor? Your agency has access to dozens of people.. "
Richard grinned. "You know that Marvin believes in the personal touch, Shay. That's what's made him so successful. You should be proud; he must regard you as practically a member of his family."
There was some truth in Richard's wordsJeannie and Marvin had no children of their own, and they had included her and Hank in many of their holiday celebrations and summer camping trips over the past six years. What would she have done without the Reeses?
She eyed the stacks of paperwork teetering in her in-basket and drew a deep breath. "I have a lot to do, Richard. If you'll excuse me"
The intercom buzzed and Shay picked up her telephone receiver. "Yes, Ivy? What is it?"
Ivy Prescott's voice came over the line. "Shay, that new salesman Mike hired last Tuesday is
well, he's doing something very weird."
Shay closed her eyes tightly, opened them again. With one hand, she opened the top drawer of her desk and rummaged for a bottle of aspirin, and failed to find it. "What, exactly, is he doing?"
"He's standing in the front seat of that '65 Corvette we got in last month, making a speech."
"It's a convertible," Ivy broke in helpfully.
Shay made note of the fact that Richard was still loitering inside her office door and her irritation redoubled. "Good Lord. Where is Mike? He's the floor manager and this is his problem!"
"He's out sick today," Ivy answered, and there was a note of panic in her normally bright voice. "Shay, what do I do? I don't think we should bother Mr. Reese with this, his heart, you know. Oh, I wish Todd were here!"
"I'll handle it," Shay said shortly, hanging up the receiver and striding out of the office, with Richard right behind her. As she passed Ivy's desk, she gave the young receptionist a look that, judging by the heightened color in her face, conveyed what Shay thought of the idea of hiding behind Todd Simmons, Ivy's fiance, just because he was a man.
Shay was wearing slacks and a blue cotton blouse that day, and her heels made a staccato sound on the metal steps leading down into the showrooms. She smiled faintly at the customers browsing among glistening new cars as she crossed the display floor and stepped out onto the lot. Sure enough, there was a crowd gathered around the recently acquired Corvette.
She pushed her way between two of the newer salesmen, drew a deep breath and addressed the wild-eyed young man standing in the driver's seat of the sports car. "Get down from there immediately," she said in a clear voice, having no idea in the world what she would do if he refused.
Remarkably, the orator ceased his discourse and got out of the car to stand facing Shay. He was red with conviction and at least one coffee-break cocktail, and there was a blue stain on the pocket of his short-sleeved white shirt where his pen had leaked. "I was only" he began.
Shay cut him off swiftly. "My office. Now."
The errant salesman followed along behind Shay as she walked back into the building, through the showroom and up the stairs. Once they were inside her office, he became petulant and not a little rebellious. "No woman orders me around," he muttered. Shay sat down in her chair, folded her hands in her lap so thatshe ...