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“Mr. Jacobs? I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time, sir.”

“For you, Kristen? Anytime. Please come in and have a seat. Can I get you anything?”

“No thank you, sir. I…just wanted to share a concern I have with you. It won’t take long. I promise.”

“Kristen, there’s no need to hurry. We’re family here. Take whatever time you need.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that very much. It’s just that, well, I’ve been back with the company for right at two years, and I’m still in the same place I was then. I fully understand that I chose to leave eight years ago to get married and as you know, I’d hoped to start a family, too.”

“And you made a great choice, Kristen. Gil was a fine man. You had no way of knowing he would be…taken so soon. I’m sure that if the two of you had had more time, children would have followed. I certainly don’t blame you for leaving and I’ve never held it against you.”

Kristen Richards did not want to get emotional. She wanted to project confidence and strength, but hearing her late husband’s name reminded her of his death and how they’d begun trying to start a family just three months before he fell ill four years ago. He’d been gone just over 30 months and coming back to Jacobs Enterprises had been a godsend for her. She needed structure in her life not to mention an income. Gil had a hundred-thousand dollar policy on himself making it possible for Kristen to live comfortably for a few years without working, but after six months she couldn’t stand sitting home alone in their big, empty house.

Kenneth Jacobs had hired her back on the spot. She hadn’t even interviewed. She’d simply walked in and said hello and the moment she told him she was thinking about coming back, she had her old job back. And now, two years later, she was still in that same old job. She’d worked her heart out and yet it seemed that no matter what she did or how well she did it, there was no movement up what other employees affectionately called ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’

She fought back the sadness that had tried to well up inside her, smiled, and pressed on.

“I know times are tough—economically speaking, sir. But I also know I’ve worked very hard for you and brought in quite a bit of business. I’ll be turning 40 in a few months and I’ve decided to make work a primary focus. I am dating Geoffrey and you may be wondering whether or not I’m planning on getting married again and leaving. I can assure you, Mr. Jacobs, I’m not. Geoffrey and I are both professionals and have no intention of ever having children. We are also both dedicated to our careers and he fully supports mine. Yes, Gil is gone and no, we didn’t have children, and I’ll admit to having kept the dream alive—the dream of possibly finding someone else—until just recently. But that ship has sailed, and I’ve decided to make this my career. I’m just wondering if I’m doing something wrong or what else I might do to earn your trust and possibly advance here…sir.”

“Kristen, you’ve always had my trust. That’s never been an issue. And yes, you have worked hard, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. And I thank you for letting me know you’ve decided to make work your top priority. Obviously, I have to ensure the business stays profitable while at the same time looking out for the members of our family. So with this new revelation of yours…”

Kenneth Jacobs didn’t much care for computers and kept hard copies of anything important. He had an old-fashioned file organizer on his desk and reached for a manilla folder and handed it to Kristen.

“What’s this, sir?” she asked as she leafed through the pages.

“That, my dear girl, is your opportunity for advancement. There’s a small factory in Davenport, Iowa, that makes some of the best cookies anywhere. It’s small in terms of the volume of product it produces, but it’s done extremely well in terms of market share because the product is truly excellent. I’ve had Elmer Sutherland on this for over a year, and he just told me he’s retiring in three months. I’d like you to go there and close the deal.”

“Catie’s Cookies,” she said reading out loud. “I’ve eaten those since I was a little girl. My parents used to buy a tin of them every year around Christmas time. The cookies were delicious. So soft and full of flavor.”

“Exactly. We need to convince the owner, Robert Sanders, to sell and let us move the factory back here. They’re such a small operation, we can move their equipment and get it up and running back up here a lot cheaper than buying everything new. But the main concern is getting their recipes and their name. Once we do, we can combine their product with our existing product line. Then sales—and profits—will increase dramatically.”

Mr. Jacobs paused then said, “Close this deal and I can guarantee you a promotion, Kristen.”

“How soon do I leave, sir?”

“Well, today is December 21st. I need you there as soon as possible and we need this deal wrapped up and under contract no later than the 31st for tax purposes. But I need you to canlı bahis have the contract signed before Christmas, if possible.”

“Okay. Yes, sir. I’ll go home and pack right now and start getting familiar with their operation and everything in this folder. Thank you, Mr. Jacobs. I won’t let you down, sir!”

“I have no doubt about that, Kristen. But I need to tell you there’s another reason I chose you for this project.”

“Sir?” she said wondering what this other reason might be.

“Robert Sanders is…let’s just say…a man’s man. I think you’ll be a real hit with someone like him so please don’t hesitate to use the um…substantial gifts the good Lord gave you. Do I make myself clear?”

Kristen Richards was indeed turning 40 in a few months, but she was still an unusually attractive woman. She had beautiful, long, soft, light-brown hair and gorgeous green eyes. Her high cheekbones and slender face went perfectly with the very full lips that framed a gorgeous, white smile. She kept herself in superb shape working out in the small home gym she and her husband spent many hours in during the three years they were married, and she looked a lot closer to 30 than 40.

Even a man Mr. Jacobs age, who had recently turned 78, couldn’t help but notice just how attractive this still-young looking woman was, and he wasn’t above using her for her looks if that would close this deal he’d been pushing hard for the last year.

Jacobs didn’t need the money. He had more than he could ever spend in two lifetimes even if were a much younger man. For him, business was all about winning and winning was all that mattered at this point in his life.

“You do, sir,” she told him fully understanding what he meant.

“Very well, then. Let Liz know to book you on the first flight out you can catch after getting yourself packed. And Kristen? I’m counting on you.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

He turned away indicating the conversation was over so Kristen got up and stepped outside of the CEO’s office and chatted with Liz.

“Good luck, dear,” she told him. “Mr. Sanders is one of those small-town, old-school kind of men who’d rather go broke than sell out to a large firm like Jacobs. But I also know he’s been under quite a bit of financial stress. Elmer did his best to leverage that, but just couldn’t make it happen. Between you and me, your name came up as his potential replacement just last week so whatever you said must have tipped the scales in your favor.” She smiled then added, “If anyone can get this done, my money’s on you.”

They agreed on a 2pm flight which, with the time difference, would get her in at 7:30pm.

“I’ll give Robert a call and let him know someone new is coming. Who knows? Maybe this time he won’t be grumpy and tell me not to waste my time!”

Kristen thanked her then took the elevator down to the parking garage, found her car and headed home. On the way she gave Geoffrey a call via Bluetooth and told him the news.

“That’s incredible!” he told her. “Congratulations, darling. I’m pleased to know you’ll be back in time for Christmas. I know you’re as excited as I am to see The Nutcracker on Christmas Eve.”

Kristen smiled but had to admit she wasn’t exactly excited about sitting through a long performance she had little interest in watching.

Kristen was still a small-town girl at heart. Gil had made living in Seattle tolerable, but she wondered if she’d ever get used to the constant bustle and the impersonal way of life in a big city. Geoffrey loved Seattle but had his eye on Los Angeles or even New York and often talked about the day they would both be successful enough to make what he called ‘the big move’.

“Oh, right. Yes, that sounds lovely. I see no reason why I won’t be back. In fact, I hope to have this wrapped up in less than 48 hours. Liz has me flying back on the afternoon of the 23rd which gives us plenty of time.”

“Perfect!” he told her. “I expect to be working until a couple of hours before the performance begins, but I will definitely be ready in time. I’ll send the limo by to pick you up and I’ll meet you there.”

“Oh, okay,” was all Kristen could think to say.

By now, she should be used to the way Geoffrey ‘romanced’ her. He sent flowers rather than delivered them. His personal assistant delivered gifts like jewelry along with a dictated note, and his idea of a romantic evening was a night at the symphony or ballet followed by what he called ‘stimulating conversation.’

Kristen had experienced true, romantic love with her late husband, so she was willing to settle for a really decent guy who was professionally driven and stable. She very much enjoyed Geoffrey’s company and anytime she wondered whether or not she was ‘in love’ with him, she dismissed it a kind of childish, wishful thinking.

“Listen, darling. I have to get back to work, but thank you for keeping me updated. Please touch base when you can, okay?”

“Will do,” she told him. “I love…”

The other end of the connection bahis siteleri went dead and Kristen said, “You” to herself as she continued her drive.

She did a quick check of the weather and shuddered when she saw the temperatures were forecasted to be between a low of TEN degrees and a daytime ‘high’ of 25.

She was tempted to pack mostly jeans and pants then remembered what Mr. Jacobs had told her. She kept one pair of jeans in the mix and one pair of black pants and carefully packed four skirts with hemlines that should be just about right. She had no intention of being there more than four days, but packed for an extra two days just in case. Lastly, she carefully folded a very nice-looking knit dress in winter white just in case she had to attend some sort of business function. She couldn’t imagine what that might be, but she needed something more formal and still warm just in case.

She owed two pair of boots and decided to wear one and pack the other. She could wear her very nice-looking camel-colored coat with a scarf, gloves, and knit cap and pack everything else. All in all she had two very large suitcases plus a makeup bag in addition to her purse and a carry-on which contained her laptop.

“That’s just the price of looking good in a very cold place,” she told herself as she locked the final bag.

It was cold and raw outside, but 40 degrees in Seattle, Washington, seemed balmy compared to the current temperature of 18 degrees in Davenport, Iowa. Kristen shuddered again just thinking about it. She did one more mental check of everything she needed and was satisfied she was ready to go.

She called a taxi then hauled her things to the front door and waited. The driver helped her load her luggage into the cab and had her at Sea-Tac Airport by 1 o’clock and she was checked in and ready to board by 1:45.

She closed her eyes and tried to relax on the flight, but her mind wouldn’t allow it. She pulled the file Mr. Jacobs had given her out again and read through it from cover to cover memorizing the most important details.

Elmer Sutherland was a kind, decent man, and Kristen knew him fairly well. She assumed Mr. Jacobs had sent him as his ’emissary’ because he was closer to Mr. Sanders’s age. Even so, he had been rebuffed on three separate occasions even when the offer had been substantially increased so she knew she had her work cut out for her.

Kristen was authorized to offer an additional 8% upfront, but she’d need Mr. Jacobs’s approval for anything more should that and her…other talents…fail to close the deal. Satisfied that she understood the specifics of the three previous attempts, she put the file away and managed to relax for the better part of the final hour.

As the plane landed, she checked her phone and saw a text from Liz.

“Hey, girl! I talked with their secretary, and after putting me on hold for almost three minutes, told me a representative from the company would be there to pick you up. He’ll be holding up a sign for you in the baggage claim area. She didn’t give me a name, but Gary Tanner, a rather nice-looking young man as I understand it, has always been there in the past for Elmer. Good luck!”

Kristen made her way down the offramp and even though it was heated, the icy cold from the outside hit her causing her to shudder again. She followed the signs to the baggage claim area in the rather small airport and just as Liz had told her, there was someone holding a sign that said “Kristen Richards.”

She was relieved to know her ride was there and yet she was puzzled when she saw the person holding the sign. He was wearing jeans and coat which wasn’t surprising, but he was so attractive it caught her off guard. Then again, Liz had warned her he was good-looking so she walked right up to this younger man with the very thick, dark hair and handsome face—a face that couldn’t be more than maybe 28 or so—and said, “Hi! I’m Kristen Richards. You must be Gary.”

The younger man smiled and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Richards. I trust your flight was okay?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” she said trying to be both funny and charming.

“Yes, you are,” he said smiling back. “So…how about we grab your things and get out of here?”

He found a luggage carousel and loaded her bags for her as she watched.

“Are you planning on being here for a while?” he asked as they headed toward the exit.

“No. Just a few days, why?” she asked wondering why her driver was being so nosy.

“Oh, just wondering. It seems like you brought a lot of luggage for a business meeting.”

“Well, better safe than sorry, right?” she said a bit defensively.

“You might want to wait here while I drive around,” he told her at the exit doors.

“Why? Are you afraid I can handle a little cold weather?” she said trying to gain the upper hand.

“Okay. Suit yourself,” he said, still smiling while pulling on a stocking cap and a pair of gloves.

The cold hit her so hard it stunned her. It wasn’t just bahis şirketleri the temperature. There was a wind blowing and together the wind chill made it feel like it was well below zero.

“You know what? I think I will wait inside,” she said.

“Suit yourself,” he said again smiling at her before he turned around and headed for the parking lot.

“Jerk,” she said quietly as she stepped back inside and let the warmth envelope her.

She was still shivering when she heard a horn honking. She looked outside and saw the younger guy waving at her. He was sitting inside the cab of an old, run-down looking pickup truck that had to be older than he was.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said as she dashed outside. The cold knifed through her again as she quickly walked the 20 or so feet the truck. She grabbed the handle and pulled but nothing moved.

“Step back,” she thought she heard him say.

“What?” she hollered, freezing like never before.

He turned sideways and gave the door a kick and it popped open almost knocking her down.

“There you go,” he said smiling that smart-alecky smile of his again.

Kristen got inside and tried to pull the door shut, but it wouldn’t close.

“Pull really hard!” he told her.

She pulled it with both hands as hard as she could and the door finally shut.

“Seatbelt?” he said pointing at her shoulder.

Kristen reached up and pulled, but it stuck, too.

“Here. Let me help,” he said reaching across and almost leaning on her. He pulled it very slowly and smoothly and connected for her. “All set!” he said.

“Can you please turn on the heat?” she asked barely able to feel her toes.

“It’s on full blast,” he told her. “It’ll warm up once we get out on the highway.”

There was an old wool blanket between them and he picked it up handed it to her.

“See if this helps any.”

Kristen wanted to wrap it around her feet, but her upper body was also freezing so it won out.

“Thank you,” she said begrudgingly still wondering why the company sent this ‘hayseed’ in this…thing…to pick her up.

“How far is it?” she asked over the noise of the engine and the heater.

“Takes about 20 minutes to get back,” he told her as he pulled up to pay for parking.

“Let me have that,” Kristen said. “The company will reimburse me when I file my expense report.”

“Nah, that’s okay. It’s only a couple of bucks and we don’t get too many pretty ladies like you coming to visit.”

Before she could respond he said, “Where’s Elmer?”

Kristen assumed he’d probably driven for her predecessor and said, “He’s decided to retire so I guess I’m the new Elmer.”

“No offense to Elmer, but you’re a whole lot easier on the eyes,” he told her.

She wondered if he ever stopped smiling or if it would ever get warm.

“Didn’t you say it would warm up?” she asked still freezing.

“The gauge is showing the heater’s working and it is pretty cold out there. Just be patient, okay?”

By the time they pulled up to the front of a large, two-story, comfortable-looking, older home, the heater was finally kicking out heat and Kristen had almost gotten warm when he shut off the engine.

“Sit still and I’ll come around and get the door for you. I’d have opened it for you at the airport, but I didn’t want some city slicker taking my door off.”

“Can you just please hurry?” she said as the cold seemed to seep into her bones.

“No worries. We made it in record time.” He looked down at his watch and tapped it then said, “At least I think I did. This thing has been acting up lately.”

Kristen didn’t really care about his watch. She just wanted to avoid getting frostbite.

He grabbed two of her bags then opened her door.

“I’ll go back for the other one once you’re inside.”

“Where are we?” she asked as he opened the door.

“This is my mom’s place,” he said as he let her in.

Kristen looked confused as she stepped into the foyer saying, “Your mom’s…”

“Well, hello! It’s so nice to meet you,” a woman about 55 or so said with a bright, warm smile.

“Oh, hi,” Kristen said trying to get her bearings. “I’m Kristen. Kristen Richards.”

“It’s so nice to meet you, Ms. Richards. I’m Abby Sanders,” she said extending a hand.

“Sanders?” she said weakly as she reluctantly removed a glove and shook hands.

“Well, yes. Jake here is my son and…”

She turned to look at her driver again when a little girl who was maybe eight or nine peeked out from behind her.

“And this is my granddaughter, Rebecca. Can you tell Ms. Richards hello, honey?”

“Hi,” the little girl said shyly.

Kristen immediately saw the resemblance, but not just between her and her grandmother but between her and her father, as well.

“Come here, sugar plum,” the younger man said. The little girl jumped into her daddy’s arms and gave him a big hug. “You taking good care of Grandma?”

“We’re baking cookies, Daddy!” Rebecca told him.

“What? You’re not eating Catie’s Cookies?” he said pretending to be playfully angry. “Why…why that’s…unconscionable!” he said evidently imitating someone or something scary Kristen didn’t know.

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