The entire In the Loup series in one complete package!
The moon is a harsh mistress for those with the curse. Only they understand the consequences when the full moon rises.Stephanie has it all. A great business, an invaluable partner, and a husband to come home to who actually cooks. Nothing lasts forever, though, and that one fateful night at a business conference changes everything.
She had it all, and yet so little.
Stephanie Yager was great at what she did, which was creating advertising for small and large companies. No one else could think up a better line or point out a better way of making a poster brighter and more exciting. She had help, of course, and that was in the form of her partner, Charles Taylor. He had the talent to know when to be diplomatic with the clients and when to let the job pass without another look. He managed all their finances and kept the business afloat when she would have been swamped by all the numbers and names. He was pretty easy on the eyes, too, and only a few years older than herself.
He was her partner only professionally, though. For the personal she had her husband Bob Yager for that. He was definitely easy on the eyes and really rich. That always made her mind easy, but after she hired on Chuck and her finances started going up, their romance started going downhill.
Nothing says a honeymoon killer like working nine to nine and being away from home several months out of the year going to conferences and scrambling for lucrative contracts. It was a dog-eat-dog world out there, but she managed to make it at the cost of her marriage.
Don’t get her wrong, she wanted to live the high life of a rich wife attached to the arm of her gorgeous husband, but he always encouraged her to travel and see the world on business. He always encouraged her passions, but without wanting to join in on the fun. He was the stay-at-home spouse who enjoyed time to themselves, did the dishes and laundry, and bought all the food. Bob never seemed to mind being the housemaid, but sometimes that could cause a strain when she wanted to relax and take a vacation. He always reminded her about the bills and how much their big house cost on all those acres. Then she’d go trudging back to work the next day and Chuck would be surprised to see her.
It made for some awkward returns home when she chatted away about the places she’d seen and he’d be distracted with cleaning up her dirty clothes. It was almost like they were living in two different worlds that only came together for a few brief hours every few days.
Thankfully right now she wasn’t in his world nor he in hers. She was at a conference designed to get together ad companies with new clients. She really hated this part of the business but Chuck reveled in meeting new people and connecting with potential customers. To her there was always those people who were just looking for a cheap outlet for their business, and she constantly had to deflect questions about free quotes and samples. Chuck took them in stride, though, and merely handed them a card which had their contact info along with a stylish background design.
That was how their days were handled. For the evening course, there was the occasional invitation-only dinner for the high-profile clients. There she had to wear any sleek dress she could find and drink wine while mindlessly chatting away with complete strangers. It was bad enough she couldn’t handle alcohol, but they made it even worse with their self-indulgent conversations. More than once she’d used an unfinished project as an excuse to get away.
“This one isn’t going to be that bad, Boss,” Chuck insisted. Even though they were partners, he always liked to call her that because she’d hired him into the business. She’d never heard him say her real name.
“That’s what you say about all of them, Chuck.” They were riding the elevator to their rooms in the hotel. It would be an hour until the lunch gathering, and then they had a dinner engagement with the more elite clients.
“At least we got an invite to the dinner,” he pointed out. “A lot of people would kill their own grandma just to get inside.”
“Sounds messy.” The elevator stopped on their floor and they lugged their luggage to the rooms down the hall. “I’d gladly change places with them.”
“Not if you want to get those contracts to make those pretty pictures,” he scolded. Sometimes he really sounded like a flustered mother hen. He felt like that, too.
“Yes, mom,” Stephanie playfully shot back as she slid into her room.
“Don’t make me make you behave!” he countered, but her door shut his words out. He rolled his eyes and sighed. There was something about that woman-girl that drove him so crazy, and yet made him kept coming back day after day to work for her. “Maybe if I got a poodle, instead,” he snorted. “At least that thing would listen to me.”
Stephanie plopped her bag down on the bed and threw herself down next to it. She knew she was acting like a child, but she didn’t carse. She just wanted to make some fine quality artwork or some nifty saying that would appeal to a faceless individual who would fork over cash in exchange for said artwork or saying. She didn’t want to have to go through all these steps to catch some strangers’ attentions and nab themselves a difficult client with impossible demands. Usually deadlines that couldn’t be met. She really hated those.
“Why didn’t I pick an easier job, like sidewalk artist?” she muttered into the covers.
“Because you hate chalk.” Stephanie scowled at Chuck, who stood in the doorway tapping his wristwatch. He’d already changed into some neat slacks and a clean white shirt. “And we need to get ready for that lunch or we’re going to be late.”
“Why can’t they have the lunch and dinner at the same hotels?” she complained as she stripped off her shoes. Her feet wiggled at the freedom from the heels. They didn’t have much time before she’d need to imprison them again.
“Because they get the food cheap only once at a place,” he reminded for the tenth time. “If they had it at the same place twice, they’d have to pay full price for the dinner or lunch.”
“Cheapskates.” She flipped open her bag and rummaged through her clothes. Underwear, shirts and skirts flew out, and Chuck blushed at the unmentionables.
“Did you want me to leave?” he asked as he dodged a pair of silk stockings.
“Nah, this won’t take long. Lemme just change in the bathroom,” Stephanie suggested as she dashed into the room with a few clothes clutched in her hand. She wasn’t too shy when it came to close friends, and sometimes he wondered if her improprieties went a little too far. “So we looking for anybody in particular here?” she called out from behind the closed door. “You know, like any big contract?”
“A few, but mostly we’re here for connections,” he explained. He tried not to wonder what she looked like behind that door as he heard her bumping into things. “A guy I know said we could maybe get a few contacts by passing our cards around here.”
“Wait, lemme get this straight,” Stephanie interrupted as she emerged from the bathroom. She looked impeccable with a snow-white blouse and matching dark blue skirt with dark blue high-heels. Her long dirty-blond hair was pulled back in a professional-looking pig tail. “We’re here just to hand our cards to some people who might give us jobs?”
“Yep, that’s what elbow-rubbing is all about,” Chuck scolded. “Now we’d better go get a taxi or we’ll be too late to get the good grub on the table.” If there was anything in this world Chuck liked better than socializing, it was food. Stephanie still couldn’t figure out where he packed away all that stuff in his skinny frame.
“All right, but don’t take an entire plate of entres from the waiter like you did last time,” she teased. A few conferences back he’d swiped a plate full of uncooked meat from a waiter and hoarded them for himself the entire evening.
“I’m not going to do it at lunch, they don’t serve those things there,” he reminded as they stepped out into the hall. “I’ll do it at dinner.” She shot him a dirty look and he gave her a wide grin.
“And you call me the child of this outfit,” she noted.
“Usually you are, but when it comes to food, that’s my weakness.”
The partners made their way back downstairs and Chuck managed to hail a taxi to take them to a hotel a few dozen blocks down. With traffic the trip took almost as long driving as walking, and they had to pay for fair.
“Gets more expensive each time we come here,” Stephanie muttered as Chuck dished out the money. He didn’t trust her with the purse.
“Yeah, well, just think of it as advertising costs.” He offered her his arm. She smiled and rolled her eyes, but nonetheless she took it and they walked into the lobby.