Baby Benefits(9)

By: EMILY MCKAY




“No, you love this job. You love this company. Me? I just work here.” She shrugged, hoping the indifferent gesture would counteract the wistfulness of her tone. “For me, it’s always been about the money. You’ve paid better than anyone else in town. And if you want the truth, it’s still about the money.”



A less desperate woman might have balked at taking advantage of his situation. But Raina remembered all the times she’d watched him browbeat a business rival. Determined not to be a causality of his superior skills, she pushed ahead, refusing to candy coat the situation.



“The way I see it, after I hand in my resignation, I can take the two weeks of vacation I have socked away. Or I can stick around and help you with this little problem of yours.” She gestured toward Isabella. “So you should ask yourself—if I’m not here to help, what exactly are you going to do with this daughter of yours?”



His gaze narrowed just a bit. He was sizing her up, measuring her weaknesses. She didn’t let any of them show.



“What’s your price?”



“I don’t want to quit. I want you to fire me.”





Three





Derek had always told people that Raina was smarter than most of the board members. This proved he was right. Unfortunately.

“If I fire you, you’ll qualify for unemployment.”



“And a compensation package.”



She stood maybe eighteen inches away from him, her gaze squarely on his, her chin bumped up, her spine stiff enough to give her the illusion of another inch or so of height he knew she didn’t really possess. Her arms crossed over her chest in a way that plumped up her breasts.



She couldn’t possibly know how alluring she appeared at this moment. Plenty of women used their physical assets as business assets. Raina wasn’t one of them.



Still, just because she didn’t know the edge her body gave her, that didn’t mean he was unaffected by it. Quite the contrary, in fact.



A situation was made worse by the infant he held in his arms. Raina’s assurances that Isabella was nothing more than a business rival had done little to boost his confidence. Isabella squirmed fitfully in his arms. Clearly she knew he was an amateur and didn’t want anything to do with him.



Confronted with Raina’s newfound aplomb on one front and Isabella’s mutiny on the other, he felt besieged in a way he hadn’t since taking over as CEO of Messina Diamonds.



“What kind of severance package are you talking about?”



For the first time in the conversation, Raina hesitated. Aha. So she hadn’t thought this far ahead.



But she quickly recovered and said in a rush, “I want what Schmidt got when she left.”



He nearly chuckled at her ballsy display. “Schmidt was a VP. And she’d been with Messina for over ten years.”



“Only nine and half, if you subtract the six months of unpaid leave she took to tour the wine country for her honeymoon. Besides, you’ve told me more than once that I was more valuable than any VP.” She arched an eyebrow coolly, looking for the first time today like her normal self. “Do you need me to scour your old e-mails to find that statement in writing?”



“That won’t be necessary.”



Isabella shot him a dirty look as she wedged a tiny fist under his chin and pushed with inhuman strength. Since he was clearly losing control of the Isabella portion of the equation, he needed to wrap things up with Raina quickly. It wouldn’t help his position for her to see how desperate his situation was. “I can’t give you the same package as Schmidt, the board will never stand for it. But I can give you twice your salary, plus stock options.”



A triumphant grin spread across her face. “Done.”



She extended her hand to him. Only once he held it in his, did he add, “Contingent, of course, on whether or not I find your father lessons satisfactory.”



She frowned and tried to pull her hand away, but he held its delicate weight firmly in his own.



“Define satisfactory. In specific terms. I don’t want to get to the end of the two weeks and have you back out of our deal on a technicality.”



“Would I do that?”



“In a minute. ‘Satisfactory’ is entirely too vague.”



“Then how about this.” He thought briefly of the piercing pain he’d felt watching his daughter sobbing as she reached for Dex. “At the end of two weeks, I want Isabella to reach for me.”



Raina narrowed her gaze. “That’s not—”



“When Dex is in the room.” Her frown deepened and he could see her looking for an out. A bargain more easily met. “Take it or leave it.”