Conflict of Interest

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By the next Monday morning Grace was moving with the efficiency of a brilliant, well-trained athlete in heels. The boardroom was set up: water on the table, reports ready and stacked perfectly on the table in front of her seat. And she thought, she was looking the part.

She wore a scoop-necked, three-quarter sleeve, navy blue work dress; a thin red scarf tied neatly around her neck that matched her red heels – which weren’t too over-the-top after a minute of deliberation earlier that morning – and her hair wrapped in a blonde bun that sat high on her head. Feminine, but tough.

At the end of the long conference table, Grace stood with her hands on her hips. She was ready.

Abbi walked in to get a look for herself. The women stood side by side. A force.

“We are ready for this, Grace. We will do whatever we can. We make our offer and go from there. I don’t want you to forget that either way, this can be a great opportunity for everybody.” Abbi motioned toward the door where all of their life-long workers sat at their desks.

“They should be here any minute. Mr. Wallace is bringing his team, and it should only be a group of four. Wallace, his-” Abbi broke off when she watched Grace amicably shake her head.

“I don’t care who shows up. They all think they’re important,” Grace interrupted. “All I know is what we have, and it’s a damn good deal. Wallace’s second-hand men are irrelevant at this point. Luke!”

Grace’s surprise at seeing Luke had her heart full and her nerves settling. Of course, he would come to wish her luck. That was exactly like him. She felt herself relax and, at that moment, wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him. Then she’d politely kick him out so she could kick butt in this acquisition meeting.

Mr. Aaron Wallace, or whom she assumed was Mr. Wallace given his age, entered the room, halting her move toward Luke. She shot Luke an apologetic smile and held up her finger, asking for a moment.

She saw Mr. Wallace nod toward Luke and brush past him with an outstretched hand, offered to her in greeting.

“Hello, you must be Grace Thomas. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” She hated that she didn’t hate him.

“Mr. Wallace, it’s-” she began.

“Please. Aaron. Call me Aaron. We’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.”

Grace corrected herself. “Aaron, nice to meet you. This is Abigail Jane. You’ll recognize the name from our initial correspondence.” It was a statement, not a question.

Grace attempted to move around Aaron so she could usher Luke out and thank him, but it was proving to be challenging. She felt Abbi’s hand rest on her back as she shook Aaron’s hand with the other.

“I have to say,” Aaron Wallace started as he slowed the handshake and covered Abbi’s held-hand with his spare one. His eyes traveled between the two women, “I met Raymond Thomas on a couple occasions. Mostly charity events.” He nodded mostly to himself at the recall, “He was one of the greatest men I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It’s nice meeting you in person, Aaron. Thank you for saying that. We miss him. Very much.” Abbi stole a look at Grace and asked, “Who do you have with you today?”

“This is the core team,” Aaron said. “You’ll be working with them for the majority. Let me introduce you all, and we can get settled in. This is Randy Flamingo, he’s been with us for fifteen years and specializes in acquisitions. This is Travis Mavens, he’s been with us ten years. His primary focus for our conversations together will be financial forecasting.” Aaron shifted, letting Travis move in for a handshake of his own.

Grace didn’t feel her heart sink immediately. With the chaos of their rush into the room she’d neglected to count the heads that filled it. When she did, Aaron cut her off by continuing his introductions. He moved just a bit, and Luke stepped forward to stand beside him. Then the dread set in.

Aaron Wallace continued, beaming with pride in a way only a father can, “And this is my son, Luke Wallace.”

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