His Holiday Crush - Cari Z.

Chapter One

Max

I glanced at my phone, which I’d just hung up a few minutes ago, and suppressed a groan. Why had I said yes to going back home? Why? My best friend had cornered me right before the most important meeting of my career, and I’d made some panicked, vaguely assenting noises. Agreeing under duress was grounds for invalidating any promise, but I didn’t think Hal would care about the legalese.

Get your head in the game, Max.

I stared at myself in the mirror of my boss’ private bathroom and adjusted my tie, a textured black silk with narrow silver stripes, for the fourth time. It was just the classy touch the suit needed, sober but not stuffy, which was the impression we were shooting for with this client. I shifted the knot the tiniest bit to the right then nodded. Good, it was fine, it was perfect, just like how this meeting was going to go.

Everything else would be perfect as well if I could figure out a way to get out of going back to Edgewood.

Maybe I’d focused so hard on just one thing for the past three weeks—this meeting—that my brain couldn’t comprehend anything else that got thrown at it. Like random requests from my best friend for me to spend Christmas with him and his family in my hometown, rather than them coming to stay with me like they often did. Gah, I hadn’t been back to Edgewood in over a decade. I hadn’t wanted to be there.

I still didn’t want to be there.

“Why didn’t you just say no?” I snarked at myself as I adjusted my tie yet again. Because it was Hal, that was why. When he blindsided me by asking me to come back for Christmas—the girls’ first major holiday since their mom had freaked out and left, and his reason for wanting them to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings instead of my tiny apartment in the city—all I could think to say was, “Yes.”

“Max, you almost ready?” Marcus called from somewhere in the office—probably at his desk. He might as well have been grafted to it for all he moved from it most days.

“Almost!” I replied.

It wasn’t every day I could say that my future literally hung in the balance of what happened next, but today was that day for me. This wasn’t just a potential client meeting. This was one that I had brought in and I was taking the lead on. The billables it would bring our firm had the potential to kick me into another tax bracket and net me a promotion as well if I shared enough of the glory with my mentor. Which, of course, I would—Marcus had shepherded me through the first three years of my career, and he deserved to share the credit once I started bringing in real money. Partner-level money.

If I got this promotion, I would be the first person hired in my year to get to the junior partner level in Staller, Weisz and Coast. If I got this promotion, I would have enough money to move out of my tiny top-floor apartment and live some place that didn’t somehow feel hot and cold at the same time. Some place where I wouldn’t have to put Hal on a fold-out couch and convince the girls they didn’t hear roaches in the walls at night when they visited. If I got this promotion, I would finally be able to take the vacation I’d been planning for what felt like forever—go down to Florida and visit my mom in the Keys then spend a solid week on the beaches of Miami getting a tan and finding a friendly guy to enjoy the evenings with.

Basically, I had to get this promotion, and that started with this meeting going well.

I smoothed my hair back one last time, turned my phone off and tucked it into the pocket specially designed for it inside my jacket—who even knew suits were made with pockets like that? I definitely hadn’t before I got to New York City—and exited the bathroom. Marcus was at his desk like I’d thought, but he was standing, shuffling through the brief I’d typed up last week for probably the fifth time today.

“Are you sure about this initial offer?” he asked with a frown. Marcus had the broadness of a football player well into retirement—wide shoulders, big chest, and a belly that he tamed with an aggressively fitted waistcoat. “It seems a bit low to me. Once you

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