She stared at him for a beat too long before saying, "I see how this is going to be."
"Do you?" He was still doing it. He couldn't seem to stop.
"I do." Her voice had taken on a tone—probably to match his—and her eyes, which were the deep, dark blue of a mountain lake, flashed.
All right. Enough. He had one task here, one simple task, and that was to welcome Ms. Delaney. He had other, more important work to do, so he was anxious to tick her off his list. "Shall we go collect your bags?"
She nodded at the small suitcase of doom she'd been pulling behind her. "This is it."
"That is all you have for such a long stay?"
"I travel a lot. I have packing down to a science."
She probably had everything reduced to "a science," including how she planned to strip Eldovia of its identity and traditions. She was likely a card-carrying member of some efficiency cult or other that had a lot of Greek letters in its name but really did nothing more than teach you how to write a to-do list and drill into you the discipline to carry it out. "Well then, shall we?"
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
"Maybe we can use this time to get started?" Cara asked once they were settled in the back seat of a black BMW and Mr. Benz—he kept calling her Ms. Delaney, so she was thinking of him as Mr. Benz—informed her that the trip from the airport to the palace would take almost two hours. "I thought we could go over a few things."
"I believe your contract commences tomorrow."
"Right. Regardless, I'm fine to start informally now. Can we get up to speed?"
"Get up to speed?" he echoed, a quizzical expression on his face. He nodded toward the driver, who was separated from them by a clear plastic partition. "I assure you that Mr. Walmsley is as expeditious a driver as you could hope for and, more critically for when we begin our ascent into the mountains, a careful one. He's former Eldovian army."
"That was an idiom. To get someone up to speed means to catch them up." Was that a bad way to explain it? Another metaphor that might not make sense to a non-native English speaker?
"To 'orient them to the file,' you might say?"
"Yes, exactly. To teach them what they need to know as they start something."
"And here I thought you were already oriented to the file." He looked at her evenly. This Mr. Benz guy had a great poker face most of the time. Occasionally, though, he would do this thing where he flared his nostrils and pursed his lips—but only for a second, and then the poker face would be back.
It was a surprisingly handsome face, regardless of which mode it was in. He had gold-flecked green eyes, close-cropped dirty-blond hair, and stupidly full lips. His jaw looked like it had been chiseled out of granite—it looked like it could chisel 'through' granite, actually, and also all kinds of bullshit. It was odd: if you really looked at Mr. Benz's face, he was probably in his thirties, but his general demeanor brought to mind someone older. It was partly his suit, which was clearly well-made but was a three-piece style—not something you saw much of these days. There was even a watch chain attached to one of the vest's buttons that disappeared into a small pocket. His formal way of speaking, which she suspected went beyond the fact that they had different native tongues, also contributed to his old-soul aura. He looked like a millennial dressed up as a boomer. A fancy boomer. With a great poker face.
A great poker face that occasionally slipped, and she knew what those slips signified. He was pissy about her being here. She hadn't expected that. To be fair, she hadn't expected anything. She knew this file—she had taken the lead on the pitch and had been checking in on it since CZT won the contract. But Brad, given his background as a mechanical engineer and his fluency in German, had been the project lead—and the point person for the Eldovians.
So Cara was going into this trip without a bead on any of the players, which was suboptimal but couldn't be helped.
But she knew clients. There were only so many types of clients. The source of Mr. Benz's ire was almost certainly one of two things. First, it could be plain-old sexism. He could be annoyed that he'd been working with Brad but now had to deal with a girl. The second option was that it wasn't personal, that he was pissed anyone was here. This happened sometimes when CZT had been tasked with coming in and cleaning house. Cara was here to begin an overhaul of the operations of Morneau, a historic luxury watch company in the vein of Rolex but smaller and, depending on who among the old-money set you asked, more exclusive. The royal family owned two-fifths of the privately held company, and Morneau's history and that of the throne were intertwined, so she could appreciate that hers was a delicate task.
As she understood it, Mr. Benz was the man behind the throne, even if he didn't like to phrase it like that. She had seen the royal family's org chart. Mr. Benz was his own, high-level box on that chart, but a whole lot of people had dotted-line reporting relationships to him. He had his hand in every department from the kitchen to public relations. And perhaps more importantly, he had, according to Brad, the king's ear and his unwavering trust. Cara knew the king wanted her here. He, in his role as chair of Morneau's board, had personally been involved in the vetting of firms vying for the job. What she didn't know was if anyone else wanted her here. Just because a boss wanted something didn't mean the rest of the team did, even if—maybe especially if—that boss was a hereditary monarch.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
Monday, October 3rd, we begin the book Duplicity by Shawn Wilson.