Hope Logan clutched her phone and gave it an angry shake. Wyatt and Liam were driving her crazy.
“You look like you want to kill it,” a deep voice, laced with humor, murmured from behind her.
She whirled. “Oh, Oliver.” She took a deep, calming breath then pasted a smile on her face. “I didn’t realize anyone was there.” She was still standing in the doorway of Eric’s office, where she’d stopped to read the text.
Her smile turned into a grimace. “No, just disappointing.”
Oliver’s gaze swept over her face, assessing. “Want to talk about it?”
Hope hesitated. She and Oliver had dated, once upon a time, and since then he’d become a very dear friend. He offered support and a non-judgmental ear, but everything was such a mess—and honestly, a little humiliating. Oliver couldn’t do anything to fix her problems. Her mess, her fix. “No, it’ll be fine.”
Oliver patted her shoulder as he stepped around her. “You know I’m here for you, right?”
His touch was warm, as was his tone, and his expression was sincere. She nodded. “Thanks,” she murmured, watching him greet her brother, Rick, president of Forrester Creations.
Oliver was … special. Tall and good-looking, with blue eyes so light they were almost silver. By anyone’s standard, the man was gorgeous. His brown hair was long overdue for a haircut, but the subtle brown waves didn’t look unkempt. In fact, some men paid a fortune to achieve the same artfully tousled look, but Oliver managed to look relaxed and sexy without even trying.
Sometimes she wished … but those wishes belonged in a different time, a different world.
“If everyone could take a seat? We’ve got a lot to get through today,” Eric Forrester said to the room at large. Hope slipped her phone inside her handbag and sat next to her brother, smoothing down the turquoise lace panel of her dark dress.
“Why don’t we start with Rick? He has something to discuss,” Eric suggested.
Caroline, Thomas, Oliver and Eric were already seated at the table. Hope glanced from her brother to Eric. There was a little twinkle in the older man’s eye, a small smile playing at the edges of his mouth that suggested he was going to enjoy whatever announcement the young Forrester Creations president was about to make.
Rick nodded. “Thanks, Dad. Well, we all know the launch of the HFTF line was a success. We now have new buyers taking our designs to new territories.”
Hope smiled. Her brother, along with his new wife, Caroline Spencer, had worked hard to rebrand the Hope for the Future line, breathing new life into the range.
“We’ve decided to run a seasonal campaign to strengthen the brand’s position in foreign markets,” Rick said.
Hope’s brow furrowed, and she caught Thomas’s confused frown. She could understand his bewilderment. Weren’t they already doing that?
“Is this in addition to what we’re currently doing via social media? Our online community is consistently growing,” Thomas remarked.
Rick leaned back in his chair. “Yes, we’re happy with the buzz that HFTF has created, especially after Hope and Wyatt’s stunt with the diamond.” Her brother glanced at her. “That was pure genius,” he said, grinning.
Hope forced a smile. Yes, obtaining one of the largest diamonds in the world to use in a HFTF fashion show had been a great idea, and she and Wyatt had developed a stronger bond on that trip to Mexico—but that had also heightened the dilemma she now faced.
“We want to use that positive publicity to further increase the reach of the HFTF line.”
Caroline frowned. “But how? We already have online feeds, the style tutorials are really popular, and we’re using pretty much every form of social media out there. Are you talking about another stunt?”
Rick shook his head. “No. I’m talking about getting out into the world and showing off the HFTF line in a way that makes it personal and unique. We’re focusing the brand in each area.”
“Like Caroline says, how are you going to manage that?” Hope glanced across the table at Thomas. He was Rick’s main opposition at Forrester Creations—along with Thorne Forrester. Thomas always offered the most vocal resistance to anything Rick proposed, but he was also a very savvy businessman. If Rick could build a solid case, then Thomas would lend his support, which could also be useful in getting Thorne’s commitment.
Hope’s gaze turned to Oliver, who was watching the exchange with mild curiosity. Her lips quirked. Oliver had no say in the company’s direction, or in the strategic planning, and he always seemed so relaxed, so laid back, but she got the impression that he was a keen observer, and that he didn’t miss the various power plays at Forrester Creations. He just chose not to participate.
“We’ll tailor the promotion of the HFTF line in a number of destinations. We’ll use local settings for fashion shoots, we’ll use local models, and in doing so, we’ll create fashion shows that tie HFTF to each destination.”
“I guess that would support the global tribe feel we were going for,” Hope said absently, mulling over her brother’s proposal. “What locations are you considering?”
“Paris!” Caroline suggested, raising her arms excitedly. “Oh, I love Paris—all the art, the culture that just oozes off the sidewalk … the romance,” she added, winking at Rick.
Rick chuckled, shaking his head. “Sorry, Caroline, but no. We’re going a little farther afield. Our first stop will be Australia.”
Hope’s jaw dropped. “Australia? That’s—that’s wow,” she said, laughing. Oliver’s usually imperturbable expression registered surprise, and Thomas was clearly astonished.
“Seriously? What exactly are you proposing?” The young man leaned forward in his seat, and Hope grinned. Yes, Thomas was intrigued.
“We fly down, do a few shoots using some iconic backdrops, and then do some media appearances.”
“Where? When?” Thomas asked.
“Australia? But like, isn’t it really hot?” Caroline wrinkled her nose. “And don’t they have something like nine of the ten world’s deadliest creatures?” She shuddered.
Rick laughed. “Yes, it’s hot. I don’t know about the creatures, but we’ll be safe. We have a good presence there, but we can develop it further. As to when …” He glanced at Hope, and her eyes narrowed.
Here it comes.
“Australian Fashion Week attracts a lot of buyers for both the Australian and regional markets. It’s a great opportunity for us to get our designs seen.”
Hope nodded. She was no stranger to Australian Fashion Week, but had not yet attended the event in person.
“It’s coming up. I’ve asked our Sydney office to compile some suggestions for location shoots, and they’ve assembled a local team of models and support staff. We’re flying out at the end of the week.”
Hope’s eyes widened. “Really? That soon?” Now she understood his cautious approach. That was when she’d been looking at getting married. Well, that’s no longer an issue. She lowered her hands to her lap.
“Sydney? Well, that’s not so bad, then,” Caroline commented, jotting something in her notebook.
“We fly into Darwin, and our first location shoots will be in the outback.”
Oliver nodded. “It’s beautiful there. A friend of mine went backpacking around Australia when he was younger.” His smile broadened, and Hope couldn’t help noticing, as she always did, how his smile transformed his face. “I can already think of a few places that would be ideal for a HFTF shoot.”
Rick nodded. “Great. We’ll check out some locations there, and then we’ll fly to the Whitsundays and take some shots on and around the Great Barrier Reef, and then promote the line in Sydney.”
“Um, you don’t need me in the outback, do you?” Caroline asked. Hope hid her smile at the woman’s obvious distaste. “I mean, it would probably be a good idea to have someone fly ahead to Sydney to prepare the promotion. Where there’s hot water.” She held up her pen. “And you know I’m really good with plans.”
Rick grinned. “The outback will be a great experience. You’re coming with us. Our office in Sydney is organizing the promotion event. So, what do you think?”
Thomas grinned. “I like it.”
“Hmm, maybe this time you’ll make it all the way Down Under,” Oliver said, slapping Thomas on the back.
“Yes, well, hopefully this trip will have a better outcome than the last,” Eric intoned from the head of the table.
Caroline frowned. “Why, what happened last time?”
Thomas grimaced. “Brooke and I flew down for a press conference, and our plane crashed.”
“Oh my God.”
“Yeah, I’m not really anxious to be in another plane that goes down—stranded on some island near Fiji.”
Caroline clasped her hands together. “Oh, I think I remember hearing about that.” She sighed. “How romantic, stuck on an island …” She frowned. “It’s a pity you were stuck there with Brooke, and not a hot date. Not that she’s not hot,” Caroline added quickly. “Only … she’s your stepmother.”
“O-kay,” Hope interrupted, not wanting to go down memory lane. She’d been so worried for her mother at the time, not knowing where she was, or even if she was alive. And then there’d been that whole mess with the hallucinogenic berries … yes, the less said, the better. “Well, if we’re flying out at the end of the week, there’s a lot we need to do to prepare.”
Eric nodded. “If you need extra help, utilize Donna and Pam. I think this is going to be fantastic. I only wish I was going, too.”
Hope frowned. “You’re not coming with us?”
Eric chuckled. “Someone has to run things here while you’re all tripping off to exotic locales. That’s what Thorne and I are here for. Off you go, you’ve got plenty of work to do.”
Thomas glanced over at Caroline. “I guess we should go through the designs and decide what we want to showcase.”
Caroline stood. “Oh, I’ve already got some ideas on that,” she said, as she and Thomas left the room. Rick and Eric left to discuss the modeling arrangement, leaving Hope at the table with Oliver.
He stared at her for a moment, his gaze enigmatic. “Are you okay with this?” His voice was low, like a deep rumble rolling across the table.
She hesitated, then nodded. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I mean, it’s a great opportunity, isn’t it?” She brightened. “And we get to see Australia—of course I’m okay.” She wanted to curl up somewhere and hide, not go on a publicity tour.
Oliver’s gaze didn’t waver, and she got the impression that he could see inside her mind, could see her thoughts. Her lies.
His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Fine.” He gathered his things and rose from the table. “See you later,” he called over his shoulder.
Hope was left with a sense of disquiet, as though she’d disappointed him. She frowned. Well, he could get in line. She felt like she was disappointing everyone lately.
She sensed a presence beside her, and looked up. Rick. His talk with Eric was over, and the older man had left the office.
“Are you okay with this?” Rick asked quietly.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m fine,” Hope said, trying to breathe a laugh into her words. “It’s a great idea.”
“I know, it’s just the timing …” Rick gestured with his hands. “This event is a great opportunity, and it would go a long way to solidifying my position as president of Forrester Creations.”
She clasped his hands. “It’s fine, Rick. Really. I’m fine.” It was important to him, so it was important to her. She met her brother’s gaze. “I’m so proud of you. This will be huge for HFTF.”
Rick shrugged. “I hope so. I can still feel Thomas and Thorne breathing down my neck.”
He had done so much to support her, Hope wanted to return the favor. She believed he was doing a wonderful job as president of Forrester Creations, and she knew how much he wanted to retain the position. She would do everything within her power to help him.
Hope rose. “You’re doing a great job, and you’re coming up with some really innovative strategies. From what I could see, Thomas supports this initiative.”
Rick nodded. “And that means a lot.”
“Maybe you should tell him that,” Hope suggested. Rick and Thomas had this rivalry going. If only they realized what a force they’d be if they just worked together, instead of against each other. But both guys were strong-minded and determined, and each wanted to take the driver’s seat in the company.
“And give him even more ammunition against me? No way!” Rick laughed, but sobered quickly. “I haven’t seen you for a few days. Is everything all right?”
Hope collected her purse and folder, taking the opportunity to compose herself. “I’m fine.”
“Because you were supposed to be getting married in a couple of weeks’ time, and now you’re not—and you’re being dragged to the other side of the world, away from you-know-who times two.”
She gasped, then laughed. “Well, thank you for putting it right out there.” Trust her brother to tackle the elephant in the room.
“I’m serious, Hope. This is a great exercise for us, but I also think it’s a good opportunity for you to get away from some of the stresses in your life,” he finished tentatively.
“Oh, don’t go all diplomatic on me now, bro. You mean Liam and Wyatt.” Liam and Wyatt were half-brothers. Each had only recently learned of the other’s existence. They were both good men—who shared similar tastes in women, apparently. One woman, in particular.
“I think this trip could be good for you. You need a distraction. This will give you some time away from those guys, and give you time to think.”
“Is that an order, boss?” she teased.
“If it needs to be, yes.”
Hope met her brother’s gaze, warmed by his care and concern. Maybe Rick was right. Being away from both men might be the best thing for all of them. Things were getting difficult, and they were all causing each other so much pain. She knew Liam and Wyatt both cared for her, but she also suspected that they disliked each other just as much, and that they were using her to score points against each other. At least, that’s what it felt like, sometimes. Getting out of protective papa bear Bill Spencer’s range wouldn’t be so bad, either. A little bit of space, some breathing room—it might be just what the doctor ordered.
She nodded. “I’ll come.”
Excerpted from Stormswept by Shannon Curtis. Copyright © 2014 by Shannon Curtis.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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