Christmas from The Heart
Book Excerpt :: Chapter 1
Trying a more personal touch with Guy Hightower was the way to go, Olivia was sure of that, but getting past his secretary was proving to be a challenge. Maybe giving her name hadn’t been such a good idea. The first time she called, Mr. Hightower was in a meeting. The second time she called, he was out. He was in another meeting on her third call, then unavailable on her fourth.
Finally, she asked, “Is there a good time to reach him?”
“I’m afraid Mr. Hightower is very busy,” his secretary said evasively.
Livi suspected that Mr. Hightower was very busy avoiding her. “Tell him I’ll only take a minute of his time,” she pleaded.
“Can you hold please?”
“For as long as it takes,” Olivia said sweetly.
Olivia Berg was never going to go away. She was going to keep on calling and calling, driving his secretary nuts, and Guy was beginning to suspect if he didn’t talk to her she’d come to Seattle and camp out in the lobby of the Hightower Building until he would.
“Fine,” he said irritably. “Put her through.” Get it over with.
“Mr. Hightower, thank you so much for taking a moment to talk to me,” she gushed as soon as he’d taken the call.
“I’m not sure we have much to talk about at this point, Ms. Berg,” he said. “As I told you in my email – ”
She cut him off, rushing on like a vacation time-share salesman. “I’m realizing that email isn’t always the most effective way to communicate. I’d love to meet with you in person. I think if you could visit Pine River and see what Christmas from the Heart does – ”
Like he had time to go charging up to her little town and get hassled in person. Now it was his turn to snip her off mid-sentence. “I’m sure you do a lot of good, but we can’t help you this year.”
“Mr. Hightower, we have such a history together.”
He knew all about their history, probably more than she did.
“Surely you can manage something.”
One thing Guy couldn’t manage at this point was his temper. He’d just come from a very unpleasant meeting with his idiot brothers and he wanted to punch a wall. “Look – ”
“Any amount would be helpful. People have so many needs during the holidays.”
“I know they do but I can’t help you.”
“A big corporation like yours,” she began.
Oh, yeah. Play that card. You’re a big company so we’ll hit you up and you should be proud that we are. “I don’t know how many ways to say this politely but the answer is no.”
“You can’t mean that,” she coaxed. “Your company’s been so good to us all these years.”
And here came here came the guilt card. Wrong card to play. “I’m afraid I can.”
“Again, please consider the history we have together,” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry, but things change.”
“Change isn’t always good,” she snapped. “You have no idea how many people depend on Christmas from the Heart.”
“I’ve got people depending on me, too. Okay?”
“Well, of course. But surely…”
“I can’t give you anything.” His voice was rising, right along with his blood pressure.
“There’s no need to yell,” she said stiffly. “I’d just hoped you’d reconsider. We’re not asking a lot.”
“It’s a lot if you don’t have it.”
“Hightower Enterprises is a big company. Really, Mr. Hightower – ”
Now she was going to lecture him on what his company could and couldn’t afford to give? Okay, that was it. “What don’t you understand about the word no? Look, lady, I’ve been as polite as I can, but I’m not getting through, so we’re done here. We can’t give to every leech that latches onto us and that’s that.”
“Leech!” she repeated, her voice vibrating with shock. “Well, of all the rude…”
“Hey, if you want to talk about rude, I’m not the one bugging people so they can’t get their work done. I’m not the one who can’t take no for an answer. But believe it or not, that’s what it is. So cut it out with the high pressure crap cause I’m not giving you squat. Got that?” He didn’t give her time to say whether she got it or not. He ended the call.
And then he suffered a major guilt attack. That had been cold. Ebeneezer Scrooge couldn’t have said it better.
He rubbed his aching forehead. What was the matter with him, anyway? People had needs. They lost jobs and not always because they’d done anything wrong. Sometimes you worked your butt off and things didn’t work out.
For all he knew things might not work out for his company in spite of his long hours. But that was no excuse for being a jerk. Bad P.R. for the company, too.
He heaved a sigh and pulled his checkbook out of his desk drawer, then wrote a check for a couple hundred. There. Maybe that would make Olivia Christmas from the Heart happy.
Livi’s heart soared when she went to the post office to collect the mail and saw the official Hightower Enterprises envelope. Yes! Guy Hightower had a heart after all. Or maybe he simply felt bad for the way he’d behaved over the phone. Either, way, she’d happily take his company’s contribution.
Of course, she thought as she slit open the envelope, it probably would be less this year. But, okay, they could make do with …
Two hundred dollars? She stared at the check. It wasn’t a company check. It was a personal one, and this was it.
If any other person had donated a couple of hundred bucks she’d have been delighted. Many of their donors gave small amounts of twenty-five or fifty dollars. But those were people on modest incomes, struggling to make ends meet, not well-heeled CFO’s.
“You … cheapskate,” she growled. “I hope you get what’s coming to you this Christmas – poison in your eggnog and a lump of coal where the sun don’t shine.”
She stormed down the street back to her office, which was nothing more a small suite in the second story of an old Victorian that housed Tillie’s Teapot, a tearoom that was a draw for both locals and people from neighboring towns. Tillie Henderson owned both the tearoom and the house. She was pushing ninety and her two daughters Jean and Annette did most of the work now, cooking and managing the place, serving high tea, offering elegant lunches and Sunday brunches you had to make a reservation for a month in advance. Tillie herself, still acted as hostess on the weekdays though, and had the final say in the business decisions. She’d not only contributed to Christmas from the Heart over the years but had offered them office space at a bargain price. They shared the upper floor with an interior decorator and a writer who preferred to get out of the house to work. The interior decorator was rarely around, usually out staging houses for the local real estate companies, but the writer, Jillian George, was always in her office and Livi could usually hear her in there toward the end of the day, reading aloud what she’d written earlier. Jillian wrote gory murder mysteries. If she was looking for someone to bump off Livi had just the man.
She marched upstairs to Christmas from the Heart headquarters, sat down at her little desk and glared at her computer screen. Of course, she needed to acknowledge Guy Hightower’s contribution. And she should be grateful. People gave to charities out of the goodness of their hearts and every gift helped the cause. But, in light of how much his company normally gave, this sure came off as stingy.
She opened her trusty refurbished laptop and began to type.
Dear Mr. Hightower. Thank you for your contribution. No way was she going to call it generous. We cheerfully accept all contributions, even small ones. Heehee. I do hope this Christmas you are blessed as generously as you’ve given. Double heehee.
She hit send with a smile.