Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sneak Peek at The Cougar Club by Susan McBride


Kat Maguire on getting older:

Aging gracefully isn’t about aging gratefully. It’s about living life with your engine on overdrive, making love with all the lights on, trashing your diet books, and diving into the chocolate cake.

Chapter One

When it rains, it pours.

The sky opened up just as Kat Maguire exited Grand Central Station after taking the express train from Chambers Street in Tribeca. She’d left Roger’s loft without an umbrella as the chirpy meteorologist had promised “cloudy skies with a slim chance of afternoon showers.” Right! Maybe she should have peered out the window instead of sparring over whose turn it was to pick up the dry cleaning and running around like a chicken with her head cut off before dashing out the door. She had a client meeting scheduled for eight-fifteen, and it was nearly that now.

The late February drizzle turned the air gray around her, and Kat shivered in her trench coat. Mist settled on her face and falling drops pelted her hair. With a resigned sigh, she did the only thing she could, much as it pained her: she set her black leather Coach briefcase atop her head and merged into the mass of shuffling humanity. She noticed plenty of them had umbrellas.

She ignored her stomach which loudly complained about skipping her daily fix of coffee and bagel from Hot ‘n Crusty. She was running late and couldn’t afford to slow down much less stop. The BuzzShots account was too important to the advertising agency’s bottom line since profits weren’t what they used to be. With an unsettling shake-up in the employee ranks of late—“thinning out faster than Donald Trump’s hair,” as one nervous staffer had put it—Kat felt like her career was on the line as well.

Just a block to go and she’d be standing in front of the building that housed Dooney & Marling set smack across the street from the stone lions guarding the New York Public Library. Good thing she could walk it blindfolded after fifteen years, because she could hardly see two feet ahead of her. She didn’t slow her brisk pace until she pushed through the glass doors. With a “woo” of relief, she lowered her briefcase and her aching arm then brushed damp strands of hair from her brow.

“Raining cats and dogs out there, eh, Kat?” the white-haired security guard quipped as she passed his desk with a cursory wave. “Bet it’s the dogs part you hate.”

Ha ha. He was lucky she didn’t have a moment to waste, or she might have tasered him with the lonely weapon dangling from his utility belt. Her mood was as foul as the weather.

“Hold it, please!” Kat called out as she made a beeline for the bank of elevators just as a pair of doors slapped shut. Dammit. Sneezing, she sent soggy brown bangs into her eyes again as she pressed the “up” button. While she waited, she stamped on her drenched leather boots, leaving tiny puddles on the marble floor. She watched the long hand on the clock above the elevators tick ahead a notch, to 13 minutes past eight, and panic set in.

Mindful of the slick tiles, she hurried toward the stairs. High heels tapping, she climbed rapidly at first but had to slow down around the fourth floor. When she arrived on nine, she was panting, heart skidding against her ribcage. With no time to catch her breath, she pushed open frosted glass doors and trudged through the lobby of D&M, homing in on the glorified cubicle that served as her office. She’d scarcely gotten off her coat to hang it up when someone cleared their throat behind her.

“Ms. Maguire? Mr. Garvey wants to see you.”

“Now?” Kat blinked at the pony-tailed stranger standing at the cubby’s threshold. Gertrude, her secretary for a decade, had departed just last week in another round of brutal lay-offs, and everyday there were fewer familiar faces and more per diem fill-ins floating around the place. “I’m sure it can wait.”

“He said ASAP,” the girl insisted, her un-rouged skin positively blood-less. She gnawed on her lower lip, most of her plum-hued lipstick already chewed away.

Kat laughed. “Like that’s gonna happen.” She quickly wiped off her boots and briefcase with a handful of Kleenex and tried not to drip on the paperwork she’d dumped atop her desk. “I’ve got a meeting in the conference room that started already. I’ll duck into Chace’s office after I’m done.”

The temp cleared her throat again. “He said it’s urgent.”

“Urgent?” As in her client meeting had been canceled? Kat couldn’t imagine any other reason for being summoned pronto. Had she missed an important text?

Kat snatched her BlackBerry from her bag but it didn’t show anything but a fresh message from Roger—the only way they communicated lately besides arguing—getting in the last word on the Great Dry Cleaning Debate: Its UR turn! And wld U plz get Chinese 2 nite while UR at it? Wow, placing his dinner order already? Well, at least he’d said “plz.”

“Mr. Garvey’s waiting, Ms. Maguire,” the girl prodded, obviously not going away. “You want me to walk you down there?”

“No, thanks, I can manage,” Kat said brusquely and left her BuzzShots files on her desk. She couldn’t very well blow off her boss, even if it meant having to apologize profusely to the energy drink execs. Kat just hoped her two juniors on the account had arrived early enough to ply the clients with Krispy Kremes and coffee. “You can let Mr. Garvey know I’m on my way.”

The temp scuttled back to her desk as Kat marched toward the office of Chace Haywood Garvey, Jr., the very young senior vice-president who lorded over the New Accounts division. She passed the conference room en route and glanced through the glass panels to see Steph and Marsh on their feet, well into the Power Point presentation she’d been working on for weeks.

Kat jerked to a stand-still, so startled they’d begun the pitch without her that her head spun. She nearly barged into the room, forgetting Chace altogether; but a weird feeling in her gut made her reconsider. Something bad was brewing, and it wasn’t the Sam’s Club Kona. One foot in front of the other, as her daddy liked to say; so she moved on.

“Morning, Maryanne,” she greeted her boss’s secretary on the way into his office; but the frizzy-haired woman didn’t even peer over her monitor. In fact, she seemed intent on looking down at her keyboard, avoiding Kat’s eyes.

Uh-oh. Kat drew in a deep breath before briskly knocking on her boss’s door. She didn’t wait for an invitation to step inside.

“Do you realize Steph and Marshall are mid-pitch with BuzzShots, and I’ve been slaving over that account for months?” she complained as he rose from his desk and motioned for her to take a seat. “Whatever you have to say, please make it quick.”

Chace frowned, puckering his baby face. “Uh, yeah, sorry about that.” He seemed to have as much trouble looking up at her as Maryanne. Usually, he was all smiles and back-slapping, like he was still in the frat house at Penn State and not a decade removed. He didn’t even mention that she looked like a semi-drowned rat.

Run, Kat’s intuition was telling her. Run straight back to the loft and call in sick. Only it was too late for that. She sat down opposite him, and the anxious knot tightened in her belly.

“I don’t know an easy way to put this.” Chace leaned forward and blinked pale-lashed eyes in her direction. “The economy’s not doing us any favors. We’ve had to make some tough choices here at D&M, and sadly that means letting go of valuable employees on every level.”

“I’ve already lost Gertrude so what else do you want from me?” Kat asked and rubbed her hands over her knees, wondering who was next. “Are you breaking up my team? Steph’s a little green, but she’s a fast learner and ambitious as hell—"

"We’re not letting Stephanie go,” Chace interrupted.

"You’re laying-off Marshall?”

As soon as Kat said it, she knew it wasn’t possible, considering her boss had been the one to hire him, a fellow Penn State grad and brother in Sigma Chi. The two of them hit bars together after work. Which could only mean one thing, couldn’t it?

Oh, shit, it’s me, Kat realized just before Chace puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “I’m sorry, Kat. We hate to lose another seasoned player, but things are tough all over. We either have to trim the budget or take down the whole ship.”

A neon EXIT sign started flashing in Kat’s head, though the rational part of her thought no, no, no, this can’t be real.

“I’m being pink-slipped?” She grinned like a goof, praying it was some kind of bad joke. She’d been with the agency since well before Chace’s family connections had gotten him his cushy veep gig. Hell, since before Chace had taken his first legal drink. “You’re kidding, right?”

For a third of her life, she’d devoted herself to this place, sacrificing holidays, her family, and her social life, all so she could ravage her manicure climbing the ladder from lowly copy writer to New Accounts Team Leader. If the BuzzShots campaign scored a hit, she’d be due a more senior position with plenty of perks and more job security.

“It’s a scary world,” she heard Chace saying as he slid a dreaded red folder from beneath his pudgy hands. “Nothing’s certain these days.”

Like loyalty of any size or shape?

“I think you’ll appreciate the package we put together for you. A year’s severance, a year of Cobra, glowing references,” her boss intoned as he rose from his ergonomic leather chair and skirted his desk to drop the red folder in Kat’s lap, snapping her out of her momentary haze. “It’s painful, I know, and I guarantee it hurts us as much as you.”

“So you feel like a million Ginzu knives just impaled you?” she asked, bitterness flooding her voice as she flattened her palms on the file, unwilling to open it up and look inside. That would make it all too real. “How can you do this to me?”

They were keeping Marsh and Steph, who were barely out of school, but letting a veteran like her go? Kat suddenly wondered how many of the recently shed D&M staff were old-timers like her, deemed too expensive to keep?

“Please, don’t take it personally,” Chace murmured, giving her a wounded look, but Kat wasn’t having it. “We certainly appreciate all the contributions you’ve made to this company. If only things were different.”

But Kat heard instead: if only you were younger. She felt like she’d been kicked in the gut.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds fabulous - my kind of book. It gives me hope that the type of book I love to read and write may be selling - woo hoo! Wishing you much success!

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  2. Thank you, Kathy! :-) I hope you enjoy the heck out of Cougar once it's out on January 26. I'm counting the days (um, the hours, the minutes!). ;-)

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  3. Great and fun first chapter. Definitely gives a hint of what is to come. I've always enjoyed your writing, Susan, so fresh and intriguing.

    Marilyn

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  4. Thank you, too, Ms. Marilyn! I had to kind of truncate the chapter a bit so I didn't take up even more space than I ended up taking! So I cut out a few graphs toward the end...and you don't get to see Kat go back to the loft and catch her boyfriend doing something, er, surprising (to her anyway!). Okay, I won't say more so I don't spoil anything for anyone. But it was so much fun to write about 45 year old women and how the world has changed so much(in matters of work and love) since my generation was in high school. It was a total blast and kind of cathartic, too!

    Cheers,
    Susan

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