Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley, #2)

Written By: Alice Clayton

Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley, #2)

Alice Clayton



To Neens, Lolo, and PQ.

   I’ll meet you at Tower of Terror.





Acknowledgments

So many people go into bringing these books to life. The usual suspects like Nina Bocci, Jessica Royer-Ocken, Kristin Dwyer, Christina Hogrebe . . . these are the gals that make this possible. You the Reader and me the Writer, we decide together what we like and what we love, and hopefully that’ll happen within these pages all over again.

This book specifically was important to me because I’ve always wanted to write a story with a truly plus-size heroine. And plus-size in All Ways. Not just the thighs and the bum, but in personality, in lifestyle, in mannerisms . . . BUT the key is here that her being plus-size is not the central point of the story. I just wanted a beautiful woman, who just happened to be a little rounder than the normal romance novel heroine, to get hers. Natalie is Too Much and Not Enough wrapped up together and set down in her city of Manhattan. I love her, and I hope you do too.

This story also has special meaning to me now because it marks the end of a little era in The Story of Alice. A little over three years ago a wonderful woman dropped out of the sky and changed my life: Micki Nuding, senior editor at Gallery Books. Somewhere in the universe, tiny things shifted in exactly the right way at exactly the right time and a copy of Wallbanger made its way onto her desk, and poof . . . here we are today. She is sassy and clever, smart and witty, hopeless with a cell phone, and will sell her soul for a glass of good red wine.

Micki has literally walked through fire to help craft my new trajectory, from patiently waiting through deadline after deadline, to sitting with me in stolen conference rooms to wrangle plotlines out of my stuffy head, to letting me cry on the phone when I’d lost all confidence in my ability to tell my ridiculous. She’s been with me every step of the way the last few years, even flying to St. Louis and being there when I walked down the aisle to my very own Prince Awesome.

She’s the best cheerleader I’ve ever had, she’s made me a better writer in a thousand ways, and I will miss her telling me every single time I turn in a new manuscript (always around 11:57 p.m.) that THIS book is her new favorite.

Micki Nuding is my favorite. Big fat sloppy kisses.

Alice





XOXO





Chapter 1

“Can you raise the blinds a little bit? The sun is setting; it makes for a nice view,” I directed.

“While you reel them in?” Liz teased, letting the soft afternoon sun into the conference room.

Forty-seven floors up, you got a helluva nice sunset across the Hudson River. It made the room seem warm and inviting, and with the powerful backdrop of Manhattan behind me, what client would dream of saying no? Especially when a ray of sunlight landed directly on my cleavage like some divine sign.

I heard the gasp of a guy crushing on me; the intern was clearly looking at my boobs again.

“Hey, junior, eyes up here,” I instructed. I felt the teeniest bit sorry for him as he blushed and stammered his way out of the room, promising to return with the bound copies of the proposal I’d asked for. He was mostly able to keep his eyes redirected. Mostly.

“Poor pup, he’s totally enamored.” Liz chuckled, adjusting one of the pie charts that were propped up along the wall. Even in the days of easy-to-use PowerPoint presentations and glossy, slick color printouts, there was nothing like a giant pie chart hung on the wall to make a client feel like you’d done your homework.

And I had. I was pitching a new ad campaign to T&T Sanitation, one of the biggest distributors of Porta-Potties in the Northeast. Make all the jokes you want, but this business was incredibly lucrative. And incredibly competitive. T&T sanitation was the second-largest distributor; they’d been chasing Mr. John’s Portaloo for years, always coming in second in sales. They were determined to outdo them this year. That’s where I came in.

I started unpacking twenty-by-twenty-four-inch pictures mounted on foam core and kept the images facedown as I arranged easel stands all around the conference room. Once they were distributed, I began to flip them over. Liz came back in with an armful of handouts, and nearly tripped right out of her Jimmy Choos.

“Holy shit.”

“Exactly,” I replied, grinning broadly. I’d literally covered the entire room in pictures of T&T potties, stationed around some of the toniest locations in town. The Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, even one on the lawn of Gracie Mansion.

“Wow, their outhouses certainly have gotten around,” Liz said, walking the room and taking in all the images. “Has Dan seen these?”

“Dan has not seen these,” an incredulous voice boomed from just inside the door. “Dan has not seen these, but would love to know why his walls are covered in Porta-Potties.” My boss stood in the doorway, jaw ticking as he realized his conference room had been taken over by something most unusual.

“You knew I was leading off with this, Dan,” I said, quickly walking to his side and handing him one of the proposals. “The cornerstone of this new campaign is bringing up the one thing no one wants to talk about when discussing their product, and the one thing people really want to know about.”

“Pictures of portable toilets,” he stated, eyes widened. He had faith in me, sure, but this much faith?

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