Today's excerpt is from Challenging Carter, the final novella in my Strip series. Hope you enjoy!
"You have got to be kidding me."
Carter looked up and smiled. "And good morning to you too, sunshine."
Dani narrowed her gaze at him, jaw set. "Don’t try to sweet-talk me, you spendthrift."
Ah, so that was the issue du jour. Carter leaned back in his ergonomic chair, fingers laced behind his head. He kicked one foot onto the desktop. "Spendthrift. I can never remember—does that mean stingy?"
"You know damn well what it means." She slapped a computer printout on the desk next to his foot. "Reckless with money. Extravagant. Wasteful."
"Hey, now." Carter shifted his sports-sandal-clad foot slightly to the left. "Watch the prototype."
Her brow wrinkled in confusion for just a minute before she glanced down at the sandal and rolled her eyes. "New product?"
He nodded, lifting his foot off the desk. He tilted it to the right and back again. "For the spring line. This new closure we’ve developed is going to knock Velcro on its ass."
"If you say so." She looked dubious, which was pretty much her daily facial expression. Then she scowled again. "And don’t try to distract me."
"Ah, but it’s such a lovely sandal," he crooned, waving his foot back and forth, back and forth, in a soothing motion. "You’re getting veeeerrry sleepy…when you wake from this trance, you will no longer be concerned with the bottom line…"
Dani pinched her lips together. Carter could tell she was trying hard not to laugh.
"So tell me, oh Mistress of the Spreadsheet." He removed his foot from the desk and rolled his chair in close enough to prop his elbows on the desktop. "What evil use of money is so offending your delicate sensibilities this fine morning?"
She leaned in and pointed at the paper in front of him. "A trip to Hawaii?"
Ah. The e-mail. Carter shrugged one shoulder. "Some of the best surfing around," he explained. "It should be a good incentive, don’t you think?"
"Incentive? A weeklong, all expenses paid, luxury resort trip to Hawaii?" Her voice rose before she caught herself and lowered it again with a glance to the office door. "Do you know how much that’ll cost?"
He patted her hand and stood. "Yes, I do. I checked rates online before setting it up."
"So it’s a done deal." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Really, Carter, you should run these things by me first."
"Always better to ask forgiveness rather than permission." He rounded the desk to stand in front of her. Then he tilted his head down and batted his eyelashes at her. "Forgive me?"
With a groan, she dropped her head. "Why do I keep this job?"
"Because I’m so darn cute." He lifted her chin and tapped it with a mock-punch. "And I let you abuse me financially."
"It’s called a budget." She drew the word out like she was talking to a five year old. "Bud-get. I’m your senior financial analyst. Paying attention to the financial bottom line is what I do. Somebody has to."
"Poor, misunderstood numbers-cruncher," he said, one hand flung dramatically over his forehead like a character in a silent movie. "A lone voice crying out in the wilderness."
"Oh, stop it." A thread of laughter laced the muttered comment.
"Trapped forever in a world with people who like to spend money…"
"Okay, Mister Spend-It-All, you might as well explain the rest of the message to me."
"What, about the Wellness Challenge?" He grinned and sat on the desk, feet swinging. "It’s gonna totally shake up the culture around here."
"Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of." She straightened the jacket of her boring-as-oatmeal suit. He’d been trying to get her to adopt the casual-Friday look the rest of the staff wore at Outdoor Sports Equipment, but so far had run into a brick wall there, too. Something about making an impression on the people outside the company that she dealt with on a regular basis.
As if OSE’s very healthy financial status didn’t manage that for her.
He tucked his hands into the deep pockets of his khaki beachcomber pants. "I had this brainstorm," he said over her groan. "We’ve got a corporate membership in the fitness center downstairs—"
She held up her hand. "Don’t remind me. I warned you it would be a ridiculous expense."
"Nothing ridiculous about it." He ticked off the benefits on his fingers. "Increased morale, reduced absenteeism, improved job performance. Offering membership as part of the benefits package is win-win."
"Except right now nobody’s using it." She tugged her suit jacket closed.
"Yeah, well, that’s what the Wellness Challenge is all about," he said. "I really want people to get the most out of the health center. I’ve got some ideas about new directions we can go, and they’re tied to health clubs. What better way to get some input from staff, encourage healthy choices, and build a more productive team?"
"You’re losing me," she warned, eyes narrowing.
"It’s a point system." He rubbed his hands together. "We’ll start with a work-up from a trainer, get a baseline for blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, body composition. That kind of thing. For the next ten weeks, you get points for using the health club, working out with a trainer, participating in group fitness classes. At the end of the ten week session, you get another work-up, and earn points for reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as for improving your muscle to fat ratio. The top point-earner gets the trip to Hawaii."
"What if someone chooses not to participate?"
"That’s their prerogative," he said mildly. "But I don’t expect many people to turn down a chance to win a trip to Hawaii."
"Having to get weighed in for a work-related activity? No, thanks."
"Oh, come on," he wheedled. "Your personal trainer is like your doctor. Your lawyer. Your priest. No one sees those numbers except the two of you. All anyone else ever knows is how many points you earned, period."
"I’m sure you’ll get a good response from the staff." She picked up the e-mail printout and tucked it in her briefcase. "Count me out, though."
She blinked at him. "Excuse me?"
"Your participation is non-negotiable."
"You just said employees could choose not to participate."
He shrugged. "You’re different."
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me." She crossed her arms over her chest. "You are a lawsuit waiting to happen, aren’t you?"
Carter snorted. "You’re as likely to sue me as you are to join in the Polar Bear swim next New Year’s."
"Hey, it could happen." She looked offended. "And the Polar Bear swim? Jump in Puget Sound on January first? You’d have to be nuts."
"It’s insanity," she tossed back. "But I already knew that about you."
"You know me better than anyone else here." He nudged her with his elbow. "Come on, Dani, you’ve been with me since the beginning. You’ve never backed down from supporting a new endeavor, even when you thought I was crazy. This Challenge is important to me. Important to where I see the company going in the next few years. I could really use your support."
She grimaced, but he knew he had her. That I-can’t-say-no-dammit look was just way too familiar.
"Great!" He grabbed a brochure from his desk and slapped it into the palm of her hand before she could change her mind. "All the group fitness classes are listed on the form inside the front cover. Just sign up for one of them and turn it in. You’ve already got a membership, even if you haven’t used it yet. Make sure you sign in before each class to get the attendance points. And you’ll be meeting with Heidi on Wednesday at six."
That wrinkle between her eyebrows was too damn cute. "Your trainer."
Dani let out a low groan. "Somebody kill me now."
Carter laughed. "Hey, you never know. You might end up surprising yourself and winning that trip to Hawaii."
"Damn straight," she grumbled as she headed for the door, the flyer clutched in her hand in a death-grip. "After putting up with this nonsense for the next ten weeks, a vacation in paradise will be the least I deserve."