"I have a question."All eyes shifted to Mark. He noted that a couple of people looked as if he'd disturbed their naps. No wonderBradshaw International's growth had stagnated. Not only was he bored, so, too, were the people who weresupposed to be jazzed about what they did. Mark suspected that many, if not most, of the folks sitting at theoval table were there merely collecting a paycheck and executive bonuses, marking time until retirement or abetter offer with a competitor came along.The marketing vice president, not used to being interrupted, stammered, lost his place, coughed and thenblinked. "Yes, sir?""I'd like to know what Miss Gallagher thinks."Jodie's eyes widened. She clutched her portfolio pad, dropping her pen. "Excuse me?"From his position at the oval table, Ethan glared at her. Assistants, they all knew, were to be seen, not heard,in these monthly meetings. Such was the business culture of the company. Mark rose, picked up the fountainpen and handed it to her. For a moment, their hands touched. He heard the quick intake of breath she triedto mask."I'm going to do something a little different today.""But I'm not finished," Ethan said.The quelling look Mark sent his way all but said, You are if you don't sit down. Ethan sat.Nervous glances were exchanged all around."VPs to the outer ring," Mark said. "I want all of the assistants right here." He returned to his seat, tapped thecherry table for emphasis. "Quickly, people. We've already been in here too long.""But Mark, Mr. Bradshaw…"Mark held up a hand. "That includes you, too, Stanley," he told the sales division chief, who‘d been with thecompany longer than Mark had been alive. "Time is money, people. Let's move."With unsure glances cast in every direction, the nine assistants, one to each vice president, exchanged placeswith their bosses.After everyone was settled, Mark smiled. He took his seat, leaned back in it. "Now, Miss Gallagher, you'vebeen working here for what, two years now?"She nodded. "Yes, sir.""And you've listened to all of these reports, right? You know how we've fared in the marketplace.""Y-yes."It was clear Jodie had no idea where he was going, and that was just fine with Mark. He wanted to see howshe operated under pressure. "Tell me, Jodie," Mark said.She lifted a brow at the use of the first name. The boardroom was as formal as it got. Another one of thecompany's problems."What would you like me to tell you, Mr. Bradshaw?"He pointed toward the screen that still bore the last image from Ethan‘s presentation. "Why don't you pointout all the flaws in your boss's report."
Suddenly, the prospect of not having a date for the gala didn't loom quite so ominous for Jodie. She wouldn'tneed an escort because if she truthfully answered Mark's question about her supervisor's report, she wouldn'thave a job. Ethan, said boss, would fire her on the spot. If she lied, she wouldn't be able to live with herself.