Tidings of Murder and Woe, the third installment in the award-winning Anna Nolan Mystery Series, is coming out in e-book and paperback format on December 4, 2014. Here's the first two chapters, plus synopsis. For purchase information, click on the "Bookstore" tab of this site. (Note: Apple iBooks and Kobo to be added when available.)
Christmas can be murder on families, especially when your mother is Julia Moreland, the CEO of a big oil company. Julia has a secret she’s about to announce to the press, but someone is sending her threatening notes to keep her mouth shut.
Julia’s stepson is dating Magdalena, Anna Nolan’s boss. Anna has already outwitted death twice this year and her nerves can’t stand much more. Besides, all she wants for Christmas is to spend time with the two men in her life. So when her boss turns to her for help, Anna is reluctant. Still, curiosity is her downfall and sticking her nose in where it isn’t wanted her forte.
Tidings of Murder and Woe is a page-turner with plenty of plot twists, dashes of humour and romance, and even a little Christmas baking.
“I hope you haven’t got any plans for lunch.”
Anna looked up from her desk to see her boss, Dr. Magdalena Lewis, standing in the office doorway. Magdalena was the chair of the Kinesiology Department at Calgary’s Chinook University. The regal blond looked perfectly turned out, as usual, in a red-and-black wool jacket and black pencil skirt.
“Why? What’s up?”
“Julia Moreland wants to vet the candidates for the Robert Moreland Scholarship over lunch at her house. With you.”
Anna’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding. Why would she want to see me instead of you? I’m just the administrative assistant.”
“She mentioned that she wants to meet, and I quote, ‘the assistant who sounds so capable over the phone.’ More likely, however, she’s read about the two murder investigations in Crane this past year and wants to meet the woman who almost died in both of them. Victoria would think that was fun.” Anna noted a touch of sarcasm in Magdalena’s voice.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” Anna asked. “I’m in the middle of the verification report for the spring course schedule, and Scheduling wants it by the end of the week. Besides, I’m hardly dressed to have lunch with the CEO of Westmore Resources.”
Magdalena perused Anna’s green-and-white striped t-shirt, black corduroy trousers, and black flats. “You’ll do. If the sponsor of a $5,000 scholarship wants to meet you, you go. Besides, her cook is excellent. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the meal. Last year’s meeting only took an hour and a half, by the way, so you should have no difficulty in returning in time for the department meeting at three.” The toe of one of Magdalena’s red crocodile pumps started to tap impatiently on the floor, and Anna took the hint.
“No problem. I’ll have lunch with Mrs. Moreland and see you at the meeting at three.”
“Excellent.” Magdalena retreated to her office across the hall while Anna sighed and returned to her spreadsheet.
Two hours later, Anna was waiting in the foyer of Julia Moreland’s mansion on an acreage just south of Calgary. She had carefully wiped the snow from her boots on the outdoor mat, but was conscious of a puddle spreading on the pristine grey-and-white marble floor beneath her. She looked up as she heard the sound of heels coming toward her down the hall. A young woman with flawless coffee-coloured skin, prominent cheekbones, and designer pink-and-silver eyeglasses appeared. She smiled coolly as she offered Anna her hand.
“Ms. Nolan? I’m Latona Taylor, Julia Moreland’s personal assistant. A pleasure to meet you.”
Anna returned the smile as she shook the young woman’s hand. “How do you do?”
“Very well, thank you. Julia is waiting for you in the dining room. Please follow me.”
As Anna hurried after Latona, she admired the hall’s graceful columned arches and the colourful glass sculptures suspended from the ceiling. “Such a lovely house,” she said. “I bet you enjoy working here. It sure beats the university.”
“Yes, it is beautiful,” Latona replied over her shoulder. She paused outside an open doorway. “The dining room is right through there. Enjoy your lunch.”
Anna nodded her thanks and walked into the room. She hesitated before a gleaming mahogany table with eight chairs sitting on an Indian carpet of soft blues and greys. There were two place settings at the far end of the table, next to a crackling fire in an open, marble hearth. She recognized Julia Moreland sitting at one of the places. Julia, wearing a pair of black-framed reading glasses, was studying some paperwork. She looked up seconds after Anna’s arrival, however, and removed her glasses.
“Anna, thanks for joining me on such short notice.” Julia’s smile was warm and welcoming as she patted the chair beside her. “Come and sit next to me.”
Anna studied her hostess while hastening across the room. Julia wore her silvery hair short and spiky, and her blue silk tunic matched her sparkling eyes. Anna knew that Julia had to be at least sixty, but the effects of aging were difficult to detect on her heart-shaped face.
“I’m delighted to be here, Mrs. Moreland. I saw the newspaper spread on your home in the Calgary Record last summer. I’d have paid money for a tour.”
Julia laughed. “Really? Well there’s no charge today, plus we’re throwing in a free lunch. And please call me Julia.” She offered her right hand with its glowing, square-cut emerald ring. Julia’s clasp was firm. Anna liked that in a woman. She placed her tote on the floor and slid into a chair at the second place setting.
A middle-aged woman dressed in a sleeveless black tunic and slacks entered the room carrying two bowls. She marched up to the table and placed the bowls carefully on the gilded charger plates before Julia and Anna.
“What have you got for us today, Nicolette?” Julia asked.
“Sweet potato and red pepper soup.” Nicolette waited next to the table with her hands clasped over her stomach.
Julia turned to Anna. “You’ll like this. It’s creamy with a touch of heat.” She watched as Anna carried a spoonful to her lips and sipped.
“You’re right. It’s delicious,” Anna said. The cook nodded and left the room.
“I hope you don’t mind looking at the scholarship applications while we eat?” Julia asked. “Magdalena asked me to choose the winner before the end of exams. That’s a week from tomorrow, correct?”
“I have some pressing business to take care of over the next few days, so why don’t you help me make the decision right now?”
Anna nodded. “I’d be happy to.” Putting down her spoon, she ducked to retrieve the files from her tote before laying them on the table next to Julia’s bowl.
“The scholarship committee has already screened the applicants based on academic achievement and financial need,” Anna said. “These applications are from the top six students.”
Julia nodded, fixed her glasses on her nose, and opened the top file. Her hand absent-mindedly ferried soup to her mouth as she flipped through the pages. Anna was just swallowing her last mouthful when Julia looked up.
“This group is an improvement over last year’s candidates.” Julia pointed at the pile. “At least this bunch can spell.”
Anna’s mouth curled into a smile while Julia pulled out two files and set the others aside.
“If it were up to Robert, he would choose the boy who plays hockey.” She tapped the top application with her finger. “Robert loved to play hockey when he was a boy. It was because of your department’s sports research, and because Chinook University was Robert’s alma mater, that he decided to endow the scholarship for the Kinesiology Department in the first place.”
Julia laid the file on the table and held up the second. “But this young woman’s average is two points higher, and I’m impressed that she wants do a master’s degree on bone loss resulting from spinal injury. I have a friend who broke her back in a motorcycle accident twenty years ago and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. It would be lovely to think that something could be done to rehabilitate patients like my friend someday.” Julia laid the second file on the table. “Who do you think I should choose?”
While she waited for Anna’s answer, Nicolette returned to the room. She set two plates of what looked like a meat and bean stew with a side of corn before the women and removed their soup dishes. Anna waited until Nicolette had left the room before responding.
“I’m afraid I’m out of my depth when it comes to academic evaluation. Maybe you should call Magdalena for her opinion?”
Julia shook her head. “If I do, I’ll just get a lot of hot air about test percentiles and academic aspirations. I want to know who these kids are. I bet you’ve seen them around your office, though.”
“Sure. The kids are in and out all the time, dropping off assignments, picking up essays, and making appointments to see Magdalena.” Julia nodded encouragingly, and Anna shrugged. “Okay, here’s what I think. When Jessica, the girl who wants to study spinal cord rehabilitation, comes into my office, she always helps herself to my stapler and pens without asking. I know that it’s a small thing, but it’s rude, you know? Nick, on the other hand — the hockey player studying sports kinesiology — always apologizes whenever he hands in a late assignment. Not that he’s habitually late, you understand, but a couple of the professors set an exact deadline, like 3:00 p.m., on the day their assignments are due. If the kids are even a few minutes late, I’m supposed to stamp their papers with tomorrow’s date. Then they get docked five percent of their grade.” Julia nodded. “So if Nick’s a few minutes late, I laugh and tell him that he should apologize to his prof, not to me, and then I stamp his assignment with today’s date.”
Julia smiled. “I understand. Nick’s polite, and Jessica’s presumptuous.”
“Done!” Julia slapped the two files back onto the pile. “Good manners triumph over academic achievement. Nick gets the scholarship.” She picked up her fork. “Now, let’s enjoy Nicolette’s pork and duck cassoulet. It’s a real stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish, and perfect for today’s cold weather.”
Anna sniffed the delicious, garlicky aroma steaming up from her plate and tasted the food. It was so good that she closed her eyes as she chewed.
“To change the topic, I hear that you were the top suspect in your ex-husband’s murder case last spring,” Julia said.
Anna’s eyes sprang open. “Excuse me?”
“So, I’m curious. What’s it like to be the focus of a murder investigation?”
Anna groaned inwardly. She should have known that Magdalena would be right; she always was. After being intimately involved with two murder investigations in less than a year, Anna still felt shell-shocked. After all, the last murder had just happened five weeks ago, right before Halloween. She was sputtering, trying to think of a way to change the subject, when Julia’s assistant hurried into the room waving an envelope. Anna took one look at Latona’s tense face and knew that something was gravely wrong.
Julia looked up. “Yes?”
“It’s another one,” the young woman said, halting beside the table and handing the envelope to Julia. Anna peeked at it sideways and saw “Julia Moreland” spelled out in black block letters cut from a newspaper or a magazine.
Julia grimaced. She picked up her butter knife and slit the envelope open. Gingerly removing a single sheet of folded paper, she flicked it open and studied the contents. Anna was unable to read the message, but saw that it was spelled out in the same cut-out letters.
“What should we do?” Latona asked. “Do you want to call the police this time?”
“What?” Julia returned her attention to her assistant. She refolded the message and slid it back into the envelope. “This is getting to be a nuisance. I think we may have to involve the police this time.” She tossed the envelope onto the table and glanced at Anna.
“Will you excuse me?”
Julia rose from her chair while Anna gaped up at her. “I hate to cut our lunch short, especially when you were about to tell me about your ex-husband’s murder, but I have some urgent business to attend to.”
Anna half-rose, but Julia waved her back down.
“No, please don’t let me interrupt your lunch. Nicolette will be angry if at least one of us doesn’t enjoy her food. I only wish . . .” Julia paused to think. “I don’t suppose you’re free tomorrow night?”
Anna was startled. “What’s tomorrow? Thursday?”
Julia nodded. “November 29th.”
“No, I don’t have any plans,” Anna said warily.
“Good. Do you think you might like to come to my Christmas party?”
“No, at the Vandesand Hotel in Calgary.”
Anna felt tempted. The Vandesand was a private hotel with notoriously-expensive rates. She had always wanted to have lunch there — maybe even peek into a guest room — but had never splurged on their gourmet menu.
Julia half-smiled. “Yes, it’s a very nice hotel, especially the ballroom. The party’s my annual bash for the oil company bigwigs, plus some friends and family. I’d love for you to come. We could continue our conversation about your ex-husband’s murder there.”
Anna frowned. Not only did she not want to discuss the murder with Julia, but she knew she’d feel uncomfortable at the party.
“I’d feel out of place. I wouldn’t know a soul.”
“That won’t be a problem. Latona can arrange for you to sit at Warren and Magdalena’s table.”
Anna stared at her. Did Julia mean her Magdalena?
“Didn’t you know that my stepson is dating your boss?”
Anna shook her head.
“I’m not surprised. Magdalena is practically a clam when it comes to discussing her private life. She and Warren have been seeing each other for months. So, can I count on you? We usually have a good time. It’s one of the perks of being the second-richest oil company in Canada.”
Anna hesitated. She had read about the glamorous Moreland Christmas parties in the Calgary Record, but had never imagined attending one.
“I just happen to have a new dress,” she murmured, weakening. Oh, what the heck. She’d never get the chance to attend an extravaganza like this again.
“Thanks, I’d love to come.”
“Great. The party starts at seven. I can’t wait to see Magdalena’s face when you show up at her table.” Julia glanced at Latona, and her smile faded. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Anna. Business before pleasure, I’m afraid.” She nodded at her assistant, and the two women exited the room.
Anna picked up her fork and thoughtfully ate another mouthful of cassoulet. It really was delicious. Too bad that Julia’s meal had been interrupted. Latona certainly had seemed upset about the note, whatever it said. Anna’s eyes strayed to the envelope next to the files. Julia had neglected to take it with her. Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
Anna looked back at her plate and tried the sweet corn flecked with red pepper. Hmm, was that a hint of maple syrup she tasted?
Her eyes strayed to the envelope again. She nudged it until she could read the letters the right-side up. The only reason someone composed a message with cut-out letters was to avoid having his or her handwriting identified. That indicated criminal intent.
Anna knew that curiosity was her downfall. It had gotten her into trouble plenty of times. Just this once, she should mind her own business. She drummed her fingers on the table. Still, what harm would a peek do? No one would ever know. She snatched up the envelope, took out the sheet, and read the message. It said: “Holding the press conference on Monday could be hazardous to your continued existence.”
Shoot! Anna refolded the note, shoved it back into the envelope, and dropped it hastily onto the table. Who was sending Julia death threats? And what was this about a press conference on Monday?
Fumbling for her napkin, she wiped her mouth, bent to retrieve her bag, and stuffed the files into it. Time to go. She didn’t want to be anywhere near this kind of trouble again. No sir! Julia was rich and she had three sons, or two sons and a stepson. She could have all the help she needed. She was probably calling the chief of police right this minute, as a matter of fact.
Damn, now she wished she hadn’t accepted the Christmas party invitation. It would be best to stay away from Julia and her friends. But Anna couldn’t risk Magdalena’s wrath by not turning up for the party and possibly jeopardizing the scholarship.
Springing from her chair, Anna was making a beeline for the door when Nicolette returned with two plates of fruit tart.
“Where are you going? Where’s Julia?” the cook demanded.
Pausing, Anna said, “Julia got called away unexpectedly on business. I’m so sorry to rush out on you like this, but I’ve got to get back to work. The cassoulet was delicious, by the way, and the soup was to die for. I mean, it was really terrific.” Anna coloured and clutched her bag to her chest. The threat of death was making her as jumpy as a cat.
Nicolette frowned. “Are you all right?”
“Sure. So, I guess I’ll see you at the Christmas party tomorrow night. Should be fun, eh?” Without waiting for a response, Anna bolted from the room, leaving Nicolette shaking her head and staring down at the dessert.
Anna sighed. She was the only person at the table without a date, and her dinner companions had abandoned her as soon as the music had started. She cupped her chin in her hand and watched the dancers. The orchestra was playing a cha-cha, and her toe tapped in time to the throbbing beat. She felt conspicuous sitting alone. It reminded her too much of being a wallflower at high school dances.
“Would you care to dance?” a cultured male voice inquired.
Anna peered up into Rick Moreland’s face. Blue eyes, dimples, sunny smile. This blond Adonis was the answer to her prayers.
“I’d love to,” she replied eagerly. Rick drew back her chair and escorted her to the floor, where he demonstrated his proficiency at the cha-cha. Anna wiggled her hips and tried to keep up with his footwork.
“You’re really good,” she said.
Rick nodded. “Mother would be pleased that the ballroom dance lessons she foisted on my brother and me weren’t wasted. I’m Rick Moreland, by the way.”
“I know.” Anna had seen pictures of him climbing out of sports cars while escorting models to the trendiest hot spots. “Your mother made you and your brother take dance lessons?” Just then Julia danced by in the arms of the Calgary Symphony general manager, a diamond art deco pin glittering on her shoulder. She smiled, and Rick waved back.
“Every Saturday morning for half a year when I was twelve. It was sheer torture.”
Anna smiled in sympathy. “Well, thank you for rescuing me, anyway. I was having flashbacks to sitting alone at high school dances.”
“A woman as beautiful and graceful as you was never a wallflower.”
“Oh, it’s true.” She looked up into Rick’s eyes. “But I think you flatter me, sir.”
Rick swung her past a lofty Christmas tree resplendent with blue and silver decorations. “I wouldn’t say that.” A moment later, he asked, “So, how do you know Mother?”
“I’m the administrative assistant for the Kinesiology Department at Chinook University. I helped your mother choose the winner of your father’s scholarship.”
“That makes Warren’s girlfriend your boss, doesn’t it?” Anna waited as he sashayed around her and pulled her back into his arms.
“Magdalena’s quite a lady. I think Warren’s finally met his match.”
“What do you mean?”
Rick grinned. “Let’s just say that the women who pursue my brothers and me aren’t generally the brainy, career-woman type. But Magdalena’s got brains as well as beauty. She’s a class act, as my mother would say.”
The number finished, the couples separating to applaud. Rick drew Anna’s hand through his arm and escorted her back to her table.
“Well, I’m grateful that you came. It was a pleasure to dance with you . . .”
“Anna Nolan. You’re welcome, Rick.”
He bowed, held out her chair, and waited for Anna to sink into it before departing. She watched him leave, appreciating the rear view of a well-built man in a finely-tailored tuxedo.
“Enjoy dancing with my stepbrother?”
Anna jumped as Warren and Magdalena sat down beside her. She felt a little heated from her recent exercise, but Magdalena looked as poised and cool as ever.
“Very much. He’s an excellent dancer.”
“It must run in the family.” Magdalena’s eyes gleamed as she gazed into Warren’s eyes.
They looked happy together. Good on you, Magdalena. Out loud, Anna asked, “Are your other stepbrother and his wife here, too?”
“They’re here somewhere.” Warren craned to look around the room. “There they are, at the table in the back corner. Julia likes to spread family members around so that we can help entertain her guests.”
Anna turned to look. She spotted Kevin Moreland, Julia’s elder son, at the table Warren had indicated. Kevin had the same sunny blond good looks as Rick, but was a couple of years older and carrying a few extra pounds. He was scanning the room, looking bored, while his wife, Lauren, a dark-haired beauty with almond-shaped eyes, was talking animatedly with a middle-aged man in a tight-fitting tux. Lauren rested her hand on the man’s shoulder and laughed. Her companion took advantage of the diversion to stare at her ample cleavage.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go powder my nose,” Anna said, turning back to Magdalena and Warren. The couple were engrossed in each other, however, and didn’t seem to hear her. Anna smiled and rose. She would leave them to enjoy themselves alone for a while. Exiting the ballroom, she strolled down the lushly-carpeted hall past a room labelled “The Library Lounge.” The door was ajar, and she overheard the clatter of crockery and a female voice. It was Julia’s. She was probably in a private meeting with someone. Apparently business never stops when you’re a CEO, even at parties.
Something caught Anna’s eye on the carpet at the far side of the door. She bent down for a closer look. For heaven’s sake, it was Julia’s diamond pin. Anna snatched it up. It was beautiful, a round circle of diamonds with a sapphire-encrusted arrow piercing the centre. Julia mustn’t have realized it was missing, or she’d be out searching for it.
Anna hesitated outside the door. She heard Julia say something in a low, intense voice, and a man’s angry response. What should she do? She didn’t want to interrupt, particularly if Julia were embroiled in an argument, but a missing diamond pin was a big deal. Taking a deep breath, Anna knocked on the door.
“Yes? What is it?” Julia called.
Anna stuck her head around the door. The room was dark except for the glow of a lamp between two high-backed, leather chairs. Julia was leaning forward toward Anna, while the other person was swallowed up by his chair with his back to Anna.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Anna said, “but I found your pin on the floor in the hall.”
“What?” Julia’s hand leapt to her shoulder. “I had no idea it had fallen off. Thank you, Anna.” She rose and nodded at the person in the chair. “That’s all I have to say on the matter. Excuse me.”
Anna stepped back as Julia emerged from the room. In the light of the hall, the older woman’s face was pale. She glanced at Anna.
“I’ll have to ask the jeweller to take a look at the clasp. I always have trouble with it. Would you mind coming to the ladies’ room to pin it back on for me?”
“I’d be happy to.” Anna followed Julia into the ladies’ room, where the older woman watched in the mirror as Anna pinned the brooch to her shoulder.
“A little higher, please. It doesn’t quite catch the light down there. That’s better.” Julia’s eyes met Anna’s, and she grinned. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, right?”
“You bet.” Anna turned to look at Julia’s reflection. “Not that you need diamonds to catch people’s attention. You look spectacular in that dress, by the way.” Julia still had great curves, which the clinging, navy-blue velvet evening gown accentuated.
“You should have seen me in my twenties. I was only twenty-three when I met Robert, back when he was still married to his first wife.” The smile faded as Julia stared. “I wish he were here with me now. It’s no fun handling the company on my own these days.” She glanced at Anna. “I may not have always been the nicest woman in the world, but I’ve worked damned hard for my two businesses. It’s time for my sons to step up to the plate. I’m only sixty, you know. Still young enough to enjoy myself.”
“I’d never know you were a day over fifty,” Anna said, wondering if Julia were a bit intoxicated. Something must have prompted this confession.
One of the guests from the Christmas party walked into the washroom, letting in a blast of dance music. Julia winked.
“Come on. Let’s go find ourselves a couple of good-looking men to dance with.”
“Just give me a minute, and I’ll be right with you,” Anna replied, hurrying to a stall.
Five minutes later, the two women strolled arm-in-arm back into the ballroom and paused at Anna’s table. Warren and Magdalena were still sitting with their heads close together, deep in conversation. Anna admired how her boss’s aristocratic, cool blond looks contrasted with Warren’s wavy black hair and bottomless dark eyes. Julia rested her hands on her stepson’s shoulders, and he stiffened.
“Get me a drink from the bar, will you, Warren?”
He tore his gaze away from Magdalena to look up. “Sure. The usual?”
“Yes, please. A Lagavulin.”
He glanced at Anna and Magdalena. “Ladies, can I get you anything?”
“I’m happy with champagne,” Magdalena said, raising a half-full glass.
“Could I have an orange juice, please?” Anna wasn’t much of a drinker, and she had to drive home later.
Warren smiled with amusement. “Certainly. Be right back.”
Anna and Julia sat down on either side of Magdalena, who studied Julia. The older woman ignored her gaze to look around the room.
“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,” she murmured.
“I recognize most of Calgary’s social and cultural illuminati, but not everyone else,” Magdalena said.
“Illuminati?” Julia smirked as she peered sideways at Magdalena, but Anna’s boss stared back at her impassively. Julia sighed. “Let’s see. There’s the board of directors from Westmore, and the CEOs from the other oil companies. Oliver Sumpter, my president at Golden Farm Fertilizer, and his wife, Beatrix. The people from my charities. The mayor, the chief of police — Robert always said to stay on the good side of the police — our MLA and MP. You recognize the president of Chinook University, of course. Assorted significant others. And one or two new friends.” She smiled at Anna before gesturing at the crowd dancing on the floor, mingling at the tables, and lining up in front of the bar. “It doesn’t take long to fill a ballroom.”
A mature woman in a gold taffeta gown with a ruby pendant dangling between her breasts squeezed Julia’s shoulder. “Wonderful party as usual, dear.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, Vera. See you at the art gallery opening next week.” The woman’s escort nodded, and the couple strolled away.
“It must be difficult, putting together a function like this,” Magdalena said, but Julia shrugged.
“My assistant did most of the work. I just gave her the guest list. I’m too busy these days to get involved with party preparations. Did Warren tell you that I’m holding a press conference on Monday?”
“Yes. He’s very curious to hear what it’s all about.”
Julia turned away. “Just a little housekeeping business, really. My sons and the board of directors have been pestering me all week to find out what it’s about, but I’ve had to keep this one to myself. I’m going to Banff to relax for the weekend first, though. I’m headed there right after the party.” She looked at Magdalena. “Tell Warren not to worry. I’m taking care of things.”
“Tell Warren not to worry about what?” he asked, placing Julia’s scotch at her elbow on the table. His face was impassive.
“Thanks. I sure can use this.” She raised the glass to her lips and sipped. Shivering, Julia took another sip while Warren handed Anna her orange juice. “My press conference on Monday.”
“Right. We’re all wondering what that’s about.” Warren sat down beside his stepmother, but she sprang to her feet.
“Never mind, you’ll all know soon enough. I just spotted David Krale. He looks so much better since he got rid of Edward, that ingrate.” They all looked to where an attractive young man was swaying with a sexy redhead on the dance floor. “Poor David. Luci’s wasting her time with him. I’m going to cut in and save him. See you all later.” Julia grinned before sweeping through the couples on the dance floor.
Warren shook his head. “My stepmother is one fine hell-raiser.” He moved over to sit back beside Magdalena as Anna leaned toward him.
“So, what about this press conference Julia’s talking about. Are you worried?”
Magdalena’s eyebrow arched as she stared at Anna. “It’s all right,” Warren said, resting a hand on Magdalena’s arm. “I don’t mind talking about it.” He looked past her at Anna. “I don’t have a clue what the press conference is about. I can only guess.”
Anna ignored her boss’s disapproval. How often did she get a chance to pick the brains of the VP and chief financial officer of a big oil company? She had a little windfall to invest. Maybe she should buy some Westmore shares?
“So, what’s your best guess?”
Warren leaned back in his chair to consider. “I think that Julia is going to announce her retirement.”
Anna nodded. “That makes sense. She did say something about wanting to enjoy herself more. If she retires, does that mean you automatically become the CEO?”
Warren shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve been with the company long enough. Nineteen years. But Kevin’s been with Westmore for eight years, and Rick for six. And you never know what Julia’s up to. She might want one of them to take over.”
“Can she just say who gets to be CEO?”
“Technically, no. The way my father set up the company, not only do the shareholders elect the board of directors, but they also vote for the CEO. However, since Julia holds fifty-one percent of the shares, she’s actually the one who decides.”
“And she’s been the CEO since your father died?”
“That’s right.” Warren was about to say more when Magdalena interrupted him.
“Let’s not talk shop, Warren. How often do we get a chance to dance? Dance with me.” She rose and held out her hands.
Warren took hold of both hands before turning to Anna. “Sorry to abandon you.”
“That’s all right. I wasn’t planning to stay much longer. I’ve got work in the morning, and my boss doesn’t like it if I’m late.” She winked at Magdalena.
“Personally, I wouldn’t mind if you weren’t there until noon, Cinderella, but I’ve got a meeting with the dean at nine.”
“And Bryan’s students’ take-home exam is due tomorrow, so they’ll be dropping them off with me all day. You know how anxious the kids get if they have to leave exams in the drop box rather than handing them to me personally. I’ll be there bright and early at eight-thirty.”
“Make it nine. Students are never in before then.” Magdalena drifted off to the dance floor with Warren while Anna stared after her. Hoo boy, was that the champagne talking? Her boss was usually such a stickler when it came to office hours. Maybe Anna should keep a bottle of champagne in her desk drawer if it was going to have such a mellowing effect on Magdalena.
Deciding to stay for another ten minutes, Anna settled back in her chair and hummed along with the Christmas music, watching the other guests swirl around the dance floor in their elegant gowns and tuxedos. Which is why she had such a good view when Julia Moreland collapsed.
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