Oui (The French Connection Book 1)(5)

By: Brooklyn Knight

My chest swelled.

Mr. Carter eyeballed each of his with a predictive twinkle in his eye. He pointed a long finger at Gus. “You must be Mr. Brewer,” he guessed.

Gus stepped forward. “Truly an honor to meet you sir,” he said gripping Carter’s hand.

“Likewise,” Mr. Carter responded. He eyeballed the rest of us. “Ryder Hanson.”

Ryder took a respectful step forward and extended his arm. “A pleasure,” Ryder said. Syrup dripped from his lips.

“Of course, I know all about you,” Ryder was saying. “I feel as if we’ve already met.”

Mr. Carter chuckled. “Admittedly son, we’ve heard all about you, too. Your name is a common one at Johnson and Wales, and your professors sing your praises. I hope we’ll get a chance to talk privately before the day is out. Mr. Hamilton and I are looking forward to working with you over the course of the summer as our intern.”

My jaw clenched.

“Now for the ladies,” Carter continued. “Ashley Tatem.”

Ashley stepped forward, shook the man’s hand, but offered no additional information.

Carter turned to look at me. “And so you must be Laila Renaud.”

I smiled and shook his hand as firmly as Gus and Ryder had. “Sir, it is a pleasure.”

“Indeed. Your name has been pretty common too. I’ve heard a few professors refer to you during conferences.”

I made a conscious effort to keep my game face on, but my heart lurched into my throat. “Well, it is my hope that I can deliver on those things you heard.”

He smiled. “I look forward to that.”

We made our way to a formidable boardroom. The solid-oak table seemed to go on forever and the presence of modern technology served as evidence that this was a place where discussions transcended the boarders of the United States.

We listened intently as Mr. Carter imparted the rich history of Hamilton Associates. It was a lecture that we were very familiar with, although hearing it in the confines of the stunning edifice was a thrilling experience.

“Does anyone have any questions?” he asked wrapping up.

Ryder’s voice broke the silence. “What do you project to be the future needs of clients?” He lifted his pen to his bottom lip. “I mean, with the recession and all, I’m sure the face of the services you provide has changed.”

“Of course,” Mr. Carter agreed. “Client needs change all the time and the recession has required us to become creative as it relates to keeping our client’s portfolios producing optimally. We have a team of specialists who work around the clock to make sure our products match the needs of our clients, especially in these challenging economic times.”

“I’m sure,” I added, my tone a little more forceful than Ryder’s had been. I cleared my throat and dialed it back. “Might you consider looking at foreign competitors to compare what they’re doing? Offshore companies are proving to be a significant rival. Maybe if you can tailor your services to match theirs...”

Mr. Carter’s smile reached his ears. “You’re ahead of the ball, Miss Renaud. That is precisely what we’ve been investigating. Off-shore companies are at an advantage because they can provide the same services we can at a reduced cost, due to their ability to escape certain taxation laws. We’re looking at how we can be competitive in this way. We definitely need talent in order to keep abreast.”

The sensation of Ryder’s eyes burning holes through me filled me with joy and a small smile formed on my lips.

Mr. Carter’s voice cut through the unspoken tension. “If there aren’t any more questions, I’d like to introduce the man I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for. He’s one of the business world’s savviest moguls and a very good friend of mine, and I’m sure you each have read a lot about him.” Mr. Carter extended his hand to the double doors of the boardroom as it parted. “I now invite Mr. Dylan Hamilton to take the floor.”

Dylan Hamilton appeared at the threshold and in less than a second their air in my lungs dissipated. The CEO walked into the room dressed in a fine, heather-gray Italian suit, tailored to expensive perfection. The woven turquoise tie he wore was fixed with a Prince Albert knot, and his cufflinks sparkled against the bright, artificial lights. He was tall, stately, and solid. His jaw, covered with the right amount of stubble, was chiseled and strong, and his fierce brown eyes surveyed the room; but when they landed on me, my breath escaped me.