James pulled the big Chrysler to the front entrance of the Ritz Carlton, then turned his head and chuckled as he watched Louisa pull down the visor mirror to check her makeup for perhaps the tenth time during the short drive from the office to the hotel.
“You look beautiful,” he said, and Louisa blushed at such an effusive comment coming from her boss, a recently-divorced man twenty-five years her senior. He looked pretty damned nice as well, she thought, in his dark blue suit and red tie. She was the first to admit that she loved a man in a suit, and he filled his out perfectly. The invitation had said ‘cocktail attire’; she hadn’t known what that meant, but hoped her green halter dress and black shawl would not be out of place.
It was the MAEM Awards. Though she’d asked repeatedly, Louisa couldn’t remember what the acronym stood for, but she knew it had something to do with marketing. She had only worked at the magazine for a month or so when James asked if she’d like to attend the dressy shindig with the rest of the staff, and naturally, she had said yes. Not because she gave a rat’s ass about the advertising business, of course, but because it would give her an opportunity to make her move. After tonight, she might well be unemployed, riding the next bus back to Indiana. But after weeks of analyzing and fanaticizing, she was ready to risk it all.
Inside, about six hundred people, mostly impossibly attractive, impeccably dressed and coifed advertising executives, packed the Grand Hall, milling about and making liberal use of the bar. The theme was something Spanish-related, apparently, as a salsa band blared and flamenco dancers whirled on a raised platform at the front of the room. Then, directed by some imperceptible signal, everyone broke from their chatty clusters to array themselves at tables of ten. Louisa slid into the chair beside her boss as the lights dimmed, a massive screen appeared, and what promised to be an interminable multimedia presentation of winners began.
“Get comfortable – this is going to take a while,” he said to her as he poured her a glass of wine. Had he been keeping track, he would have realized it was her fourth.
Beneath the table, James’s legs bumped Louisa’s, but neither of them pulled back or muttered apologies. They were knee to knee, wool suit pants touching silken leg. Impulsively, beneath the folds of the tablecloth, Louisa gently put her hand on his upper leg and squeezed.
James glanced at her, a bit surprised, and smiled. Louisa smiled in return and moved her hand slightly, a bit higher.