Home>>read Smokescreen free online


By:Ahren Sanders

My legs burn, but I keep my pace, trying to clear my mind. Nerves and anxiety have consumed me the last two weeks and today’s the day. In a few hours, I’ll be presenting a proposal that could change the course of my professional life.

I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to throw my small firm’s name into the Request for Proposal process with Hurst & McCoy. I highly doubt they’ll look at a boutique firm to help them rebuild their image after the shit storm that was created last month. I’m not totally confident they can save their reputation, but if I could be a part of the process and bring the organization into a positive light, it would be the pinnacle of my career.

Slowing down when I get close to my house, I see a familiar black BMW in my driveway. Laci Barnes, my best friend and assistant, leans against the car with a drink carrier full of Starbucks. She smiles widely at me and waves with her free hand. She’s the only person I know with the energy and enthusiasm of a cheerleader this early in the morning.

“Hey, Lace, what are you doing here?”

“I knew you would be running! How the hell do you stand this heat and humidity? I’m melting just waiting for you.” She exaggerates by fanning her face but smiling as well.

“It’s a bit early for the dramatics. Seriously, why are you here?”

“Stella, I know how important today is. I’m here to help. I’d bet you have all the proposals laid out from reviewing them one more time and you haven’t even thought of your outfit.”

She knows me so well.

“Right, so let’s get inside and get you showered. I brought a variety of caffeine choices.” She turns and walks toward my small, cottage style house.

Once we get inside, I pick the first drink my hand touches and head to the shower. Before I shut the door, I see her organizing my notes and shoving them in my oversized laptop case.

For once, I’m thankful for her unexpected visit. We’ve been best friends for twenty years after my family moved next to hers when we were both eight. While she drives me crazy, I wouldn’t change anything about her

When I’m done with my shower, she’s waiting for me on my bed with two dresses laid out. Neither of them are classic business suits that would impress the VP of Global Marketing.

“Before you dismiss these choices, let me tell you why I chose them. Both are extremely professional and at the same time give the impression of confidence.”

For once, I don’t argue, but nod and start on my hair and make-up. We decide on a red and white print dress with a black patent leather high belt. I grab a black blazer as a precaution and follow her downstairs.

“Let’s go over a last minute idea.” I reach for my iPad and sit down.

“I’d rather talk to you about something else.” She grabs the iPad and searches a few seconds before shoving it back in my hands.

The image on the screen causes my jaw to drop. There’s no caption, but the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen is grinning with a super model on his arm. She’s leaning into him with a dazzling smile. He’s wearing a tuxedo that has to be custom made for his tall frame. His stare into the camera is intense and the deep blue of his eyes look almost grey.

“That is Maxwell McCoy, Stella, as in the McCoy in Hurst & McCoy.”

“Why are you showing me this?”

“I needed to prepare you in case he’s in your meeting today. You deserve this project more than anyone, and I don’t want you to be tripped up by him. Rumor has it that he’s hard as nails—his looks are the only nice thing about him.”

“Laci, I’m meeting with Brian Claxton, VP of Global Marketing. I highly doubt the president of the company has time to listen to these proposals.”

“Maybe so, but you fluster easily so I wanted to warn you.”

“Can we go over my notes now?” I ask annoyed. It’s one thing for the entire professional business world to look at me different because I’m a woman. But for my best friend to think I’d let my guard down because of a handsome face pisses me off.

After an hour, she gives me a hug and wishes me luck. “Time to be spectacular,” is the last thing she says, giving me a boost of confidence.

I drive downtown to the large sky rise building and make my way to the thirty-fifth floor. The receptionist greets me and announces my arrival.

A few minutes later, she leads me into a conference room. A large man with graying hair watches me with an impassive look and stands. Another man turns from the floor to ceiling window and faces the room. My breath hitches and my skin prickles. Maxwell McCoy stares back at me with complete indifference. He’s taller than I imagined, at least six foot two. His dark hair is shaved close on the sides, but longer on top with a slight spike. The black suit he’s wearing fits his body perfectly showing off a firm physique. My mouth goes dry at the sight and my heart starts racing. When our eyes meet, something passes between us and his pupils widen. The energy in the room changes as we stare at each other.