Emma Ballard hated snow. Cursing her shoe choice—leather designer boots clearly not made for mid-Atlantic winters—she stomped her feet on the frozen sidewalk under the overhang outside of the Portuguese restaurant in Newark, New Jersey. As she rocked back and forth to stay warm, she wrapped her grey wool coat, a Ballard original, a little tighter around her chest, pulled a cap from her oversized bag, and cursed all things winter.
Despite her hatred of the white flakes falling around her, the bitter cold air felt good against her cheeks, which were still warm from the heat and activity of Russell Westingman's retirement party. Even though Thanksgiving had just passed and it was still early in the season, the weather people had been predicting a snowy winter, starting with the storm today.
Emma had insisted on keeping the party on as scheduled. As CEO of Ballard Industries, she wanted to send Russell out in style, and the five-course, open invitation luncheon, complete with a band and open bar, seemed to do the trick.
If only Mother Nature had agreed with her party plans.
She should have left earlier but after the party cleared out, Emma had sat with Russell, polishing off a pitcher of Sangria. With her belly full and her head spinning from the alcohol, Emma listened to Russell's stories about her father, and had to make a conscious effort not to let her tears fall. Russell missed Daniel "Danny Boy" Ballard, almost as much as she did.
Emma had known Russell all her life, since her father had started Ballard Industries with a flagship store thirty years earlier, and Russell had been his first administrative hire. Later, while her father focused on building the international and domestic business side of things, Russell "kept the home fires burning," working out of the Jersey branch and focusing on human resources, office management, and technology. Their competition—Ann Taylor, Dress Barn, the Gap—had all tried to lure him away, but he'd been loyal to "Danny Boy" and BI from day one.
When they'd finally said goodbye, Russell thanked Emma for the party, gushed over the generous retirement package he'd been given, and cried reading the card she wrote out for him. His would be hard shoes to fill.
She stomped her feet again, but her toes had officially become numb. They'd gotten word earlier that the trains to Manhattan were cancelled due to the storm. Emma debated staying in a hotel for the night. But holding onto one last thread of hope that she could get home to the city, she willed herself to be patient, and waited for the car she'd summoned.
After adjusting her wool cap over her ears, she pulled out her phone and opened her email, figuring she'd give the car another ten minutes before high-tailing it to the nearest Hilton. Snowflakes dropped onto the device as she texted the Assistant CEO, Rhonda Lewis, that she was still in Jersey. She brushed the flakes off her phone, hating the snow even more.
"Ms. Ballard!" A man's voice called from the street.
"Thank God," Emma murmured to herself, shoving her phone back into her bag. Another minute waiting, and the frostbite would have set in.
A grey, Honda something-or-other idled at the curb, while the man attached to the voice waved at her from the driver's seat. "Everything okay, ma'am?"
"Fine now." She took a few careful steps toward the car. The man exited the vehicle and met her on the icy sidewalk, offering an arm to steady her. He was tall, but so was she, and she grabbed his forearm and leaned on him for support. "You can get me back to New York in this mess?"
The man quirked an eyebrow, glancing down at her with green eyes. The snowflakes gathered on his blond, unruly hair—hair that looked overdue for a cut. "Oh, um." Looking across the street and then up to the sky, he finally focused on her. "I don't think so."
YOU ARE READING
Emma Ballard, a retired supermodel, has been the acting CEO and face of her family's clothing business for the past five years, living the busy corporate life in New York City. She meets the Jersey branch IT supervisor, theater-nerd Andrew Mooney, w...