Oui (The French Connection Book 1)(7)

By: Brooklyn Knight

My eyes flitted up to looked at Ryder and he gazed at me before tilting his head in the direction of the CEO. “Go on, Laila. Tell them about the project.”

My mouth snapped shut and my eyes quivered as a smile turned the edges of my mouth. I smoothed the imaginary creases out of my perfectly steamed suit, realizing that the spotlight was now on me.

The CEO’s eyes turned towards me and my pulse escalated in my wrist. His eyes flashed, and he moistened the most perfect set of lips I had ever seen. Suddenly, I was imagining how they’d feel against my own.

His voice pulled me back. “So I suppose that brings me to you... Miss -”

“Renaud.” My voice was small. “Laila Renaud, Mr. Hamilton.”

Our eyes entangled and this time there was no denying his intoxicating magnetism. The feeling of being drawn to him was terrifying. I was free falling into the depths of his presence and there was no parachute in sight.

This could be bad.

Mr. Carter cleared his throat and I startled, trying to regain what was left of my composure.

“Sir, as Mr. Hanson mentioned, I am interested in speculation and innovation regarding new products and services, but specifically, as they relate and respond to the advances of technology.” My tone grew more robust this time. “There are clear benefits to exploring the feasibility of e-Insurance. We’re in the digital age, Mr. Hamilton. Thanks to Amazon, Borders is almost obsolete, as will be many other brick and mortar establishments which rely on traditional methods of service delivery. Mr. Hamilton, very soon, if not already, cable service providers will be forced to consider other products for the consumer because everything is digital. Nobody rents movies anymore. Cable is barely competitive. And I can go online and send my choice of flowers or candy anywhere in the world with the click of a button. This is the world in which we live, and I am convinced that the time has come for us to consider how our customers might require and benefit from the security of web-based insurance. There’s an untapped market here, sir, and I think it’s worthy of exploration.”

The room would have been silent, but for the sound of my heart banging against my ribcage.

Carter’s eyes shifted from me to the CEO.

The CEO nodded, and his mouth drew into a straight line. “Well... thank you for expanding on that, Miss Renaud. It’s good to have you on the team today.” He smiled and turned to Gus.

Gus’s voice, sounding like a drone of bees in the summer, faded into the background and I shrunk in my seat.

THE DAY ENDED AT 5:30 PM, but each of us we were still floating on clouds of excitement. It had been an amazing experience, but the CEO’s lackluster response to my diatribe bothered me. I’d intended to blow him out of the water. It hadn’t happened. Instead, Ryder had stolen my thunder and rained on my parade.

“That was awesome,” Ashley repeated for the hundredth time. “It couldn’t have been any better.”

“I’m glad you had a great time,” I forced myself to say. “Who did you spend the day with?”

“I was with one of the senior managers reviewing portfolio performance and it is so amazing how innovative these guys are. It was unreal,” she replied, oblivious to my flatness.

My posture straightened as Ryder approached, and an inexplicable heat singed my insides.

“Well, as you all know, I got to spend my day with Mr. Hamilton. There are absolutely no words to describe the experience.”

I rolled my eyes, trying to force tears of disappointment back. I was being silly, I thought. The day hadn’t gone the way I’d planned, but I owed Ryder a thank you. He didn’t have to acknowledge me in that boardroom today, especially after the way I had treated him, but he had. The least I could do was woman-up and let him know I was grateful.

I drew in a breath and turned on my heel to face him. “I’m glad you had a great time too, Ryder,” I said, though my lips hardly moved.

Ryder’s jaw dropped as he looked to the left and the right. “Wait...” He threw his hand against his chest. “Are you talking to me?”

I rolled my eyes and bit back a genuine smile. “Stranger things have happened,” I informed him.