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Chapter One


I walked into the meeting fifteen minutes late.

That’s when the murders began…

Just kidding!

Nobody was murdered. Nobody did any murdering for that matter. It was only our weekly planning meeting, held every Monday at four o’clock, rain or shine, blizzard or earthquake, or zombie apocalypse. Because that was how my dinosaur of a boss rolled.

Every Monday at the same time, the entire staff of SixTwentySix Marketing gathered together in the sleek conference room eight stories above downtown Durham and went to war. Or that was what it felt like. My boss, Mr. Tucker, or Mother Tucker as I liked to call him, presided over the meeting at the head of the table. His firm fist pounded like a gavel as my colleagues and I battled over coveted accounts and lead positions while skillfully dodging less lucrative projects.

Because I was a minnow in a sea of sharks, guess who always ended up with the dud accounts?

A family insurance firm is in need of a new logo? Something updated and eye-catching, but also a straight-up replica of the same one they’ve used for eighteen years? I’m your girl.

A family dental office hoping to pull in new customers with some flashy social media graphics? Yep, I’m all over it.

A dinky Baptist church that basically needed someone to explain PowerPoint to them? Watch out world, I can explain the hell out of PowerPoint.

Which was basically what the pastor had asked me to do. “Please get Satan out of this program so we can use it on Sunday mornings.”

I was pretty much the go-to girl for all things boring and uninspired. But it paid the bills, and I had high hopes of moving up one day. For now, I was somewhat happy to pay my dues. I’d start with logos and promo pics, so that tomorrow I could move up to six-figure social media campaigns and citywide advertisements.

It was all in my five-year plan. Along with being on time to a meeting every once in a while.

My boss glared at me from his self-appointed throne chair, tracking my every step as I quietly tiptoed around the room in three-inch heels. So basically, not tiptoeing at all. I clunked clumsily on the bamboo floor, causing every set of eyes to turn my way.

Waving meekly from behind my planner, I ignored the smirks from my smug coworkers. They thought they were big deals because they had things like job security and savings accounts. I was just grateful to have a seat at the table.

I was the youngest designer at twenty-seven working at a cutthroat graphic design company and didn’t have a ton of perks. My coworkers resented me, my clients underestimated me, and my boss barely remembered that I wasn’t his secretary.

I kept waiting for the call into the corner office. Mr. Tucker would raise one bushy eyebrow and say, “We appreciate all you’ve done for us, Holly, but we’re going in a different, more punctual direction.”

Squeezing between two swiveling, leather chairs to take the only available seat, I set my planner on the table, hid my phone on my lap, and pulled a pen from hair. I crossed my legs at the ankles and leaned forward attentively—the consummate professional.

“So nice of you to join us, Mitchell,” he grunted.

My last name was Maverick. And my first name—Molly. But for some reason I’d never found the courage to correct him. It was borderline ridiculous at this point, but I’d let him get away with it for nearly three years now, so mentioning it to him after all this time seemed humiliating awkward.

Every time I got paid, I breathed a sigh of relief that at least human resources knew my name.

I flashed him a closed-lip smile and waited till he turned away before I brushed my bangs out of my eyes. Slumping just barely in my seat, I clicked on my pen and pretended to start taking notes in the margin of my planner.

To the Mother Tucker, it looked like I was an excellent listener. To my Erin Condren organizer it looked like Fourth of July at nighttime—a horizon full of exploding fireworks that were all shapes and sizes; metaphors for the current status of my spiraling career.

And I didn’t mean because of the celebratory sky. I was referring to the gunpowder and fiery explosions part.

Mr. Tucker began going over standing accounts. Different designers gave updates and reports for forty-five minutes. I focused on the details of my drawing so I didn’t embarrass myself further by falling asleep.

Finally, after so much ass-kissing from my coworkers that my own lips felt chapped, Mr. Tucker pulled out his ivory cardstock stationary. For as many modern advances as SixTwentySix Marketing had made in the last several years, Mr. Tucker was as old school as they came.

His idea of marketing revolved around magazine advertisements and call-based surveys. I wasn’t even sure he had an email account set up in his name. He’d started STS sometime shortly after Alexander the Great tried to invade India, and then named the company after his anniversary date so he would never forget.

Romantic, right?

I’m sure the first Mrs. Tucker felt honored. I wasn’t so sure how Mrs. Tuckers two, three and four felt about it.

“We have some new bids today.” He grinned at us as though he were holding the winning lotto numbers and one of us was going to be lucky enough to win them. “And they’re good ones.” He turned to his son and heir of the company, Henry Tucker, or as I liked to call him ever since he propositioned me at the Christmas part three-fourths of a bottle of Jack Daniels deep, The Little Tucker, and winked. Henry beamed under his father’s approval, basking in the recognition he didn’t deserve.

Henry spent more time chasing girls around the office than he did growing his dad’s business. And he knew as much about modern marketing as my shoe. Luckily for both Tucker men, part of our paycheck was commission based.

Monetary incentive drove this company to succeed. Well, money and coffee. And a fair amount of Thai takeout from the restaurant across the street.

Also, and maybe this was just me, but Swedish Fish had been a big part of the small success I’d had.

How else was I supposed to stay awake during projects? I was designing dental logos, remember?

There were only so many fonts that could simulate a smile with words.

Mr. Tucker started going through his list, assigning each item to different designers based on seemingly zero information about either the client or his employee. From hours of observing him during these meetings, my best guess was that he picked whomever he noticed first. But other factors I was considering were names he could remember quickly, favorite colors by shirts, favorite colors by ties and Morse code by way of rapidly blinking eyelids.

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