“Makes you wonder why LanCorp would take it to an outside agency, doesn’t it?”
He frowned. “Yeah. I guess. Hadn’t thought about it.”
Neither had I. But Gideon had.
I looked back down at my mug, stirring absently. “There’s a new GenTen coming out soon.”
“I heard. That’s a no-brainer, though. Everyone’s going to buy it.”
Flexing my fingers, I studied my wedding ring and thought about the vows I’d made when I accepted it.
“You got plans for lunch?” he asked.
I picked up my mug and faced him. “Yes, I’m going out with Mark and his partner.”
“Oh, right.” He moved toward the coffeemaker when I got out of the way. “Maybe we could grab drinks after work sometime this week. Drag our significant others with us. If Gideon’s up for it. I know he’s a busy guy.”
I opened my mouth. Closed it again. Will had given me the perfect opening to excuse Gideon. I could take it, but I wanted to share the social parts of my life with my husband. I wanted him with me. If I started excluding him from my life, wasn’t that the beginning of the end?
“Sounds like fun,” I lied, imagining a tension-fraught evening. “I’ll talk to him about it. See what we can work out.”
Will nodded. “Cool. Lemme know.”
“I’VE got a problem.”
“Oh?” I looked across the table at Mark. The Cuban restaurant Steven had chosen was both large and popular. Sunlight streamed in through a massive skylight, while colorful murals decorated the space with parrots and palm fronds. Festive music made me feel like I’d gone on vacation to somewhere exotic, while the rich smell of spices made my tummy perk up for the first time in days.
I rubbed my hands together. “Let’s fix it.”
Steven nodded. “Eva’s right. Lay it on us.”
Mark pushed the menu aside and set his elbows on the table. “So Mr. Waters told me this morning to start working on the LanCorp brief.”
“Yay!” I applauded.
“Not so fast. In light of that, I had to give him my notice. I’d been hoping to wait until Friday, but they need someone who can stick with the client all the way through, not just the first month.”
“You’ve got a point,” I conceded, my smile fading. “What a bummer, though.”
“It sucked, but . . .” He shrugged. “It is what it is. Then he called in the other partners. They told me that the LanCorp brass was insistent that I head the campaign when they first approached the agency, enough so that the partners are worried they’ll lose the account if I’m not managing it.”
Steven grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s what we like to hear!”
Mark gave a sheepish smile. “Yeah, it was a boost, for sure. So anyway, they offered me a promotion and a raise if I’ll stay.”
“Whoa.” I sat back. “That’s a serious boost.”
“They can’t offer what Cross did. Not even half, but let’s be honest, he’s overpaying me.”
“Says you,” Steven scoffed. “You’re worth every penny.”
I nodded, even though I had only a vague idea of what Gideon had put on the table. “I agree with that.”
“But I feel like I owe Waters Field and Leaman some loyalty.” Mark rubbed at his jaw. “They’ve been good to me and they want to keep me, even knowing I can be poached by someone else.”
“You’ve given them good work for years,” Steven countered. “They got a lot out of you. You don’t owe them any favors.”
“I know that. And I was fine with leaving an empty office behind, because they could fill that quick enough. But I’m having a hard time with possibly costing them the LanCorp campaign when I go.”
“But that decision isn’t yours to make,” I pointed out. “If LanCorp doesn’t retain the agency, that’s up to them.”
“I’ve tried spinning it that way, too. But it’s still not something I want to see happen.”
The server came by to take our order. I looked at Steven. “Can you do the honors?”
“Sure.” He looked at Mark, who gave a quick nod to signal the same request. Steven ordered for all of us.
I waited until we were alone again to speak, unsure of how to say what needed to be said. In the end, I went with blunt. “I can’t work on the PhazeOne campaign.”
Mark and Steven stared at me.
“Look, the Landons and the Crosses go way back,” I explained, “and there’s bad blood between them. Gideon’s got some concerns, and I see his point. It’s strong enough for me to be cautious.”
Mark frowned. “Landon knows who you are. He doesn’t have a problem with it.”
“I know. But the PhazeOne system is a pretty big deal. There’s risk involved with having access to it, and I don’t need to contribute to that in any way.” It was hard admitting that Gideon was right, because I knew I was right, too. Which left us at an impasse I didn’t know how to get around.
Steven leaned closer and studied me. “You’re serious.”
“Afraid so. Not that your decision is in any way affected by me, Mark, but I thought I should put that out there.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Mark said.
“She’s telling you that if you stay with your job, you’ll be losing both the money and your assistant,” Steven clarified. “Or you can move to Cross Industries as you’ve already agreed to do, get the money, and keep Eva.”