Feb 20, 2015

Ship of Dreams



Title: Ship of Dreams

Author: Rebecca Heflin

Series: Dreams Come True #2

Genre: Contemporary Romance



Advertising Diva, Laura Armstrong is after Imperial Cruise Lines, the biggest account of her career and the one that will lead to the next step in her Life Plan of becoming one of the most powerful women in advertising. That winning the account will also prove her father wrong is a bonus.



Sexy Southern Gentleman, Nathan Maxwell, is after that very same account, but for completely different reasons. Landing the account means a sizeable bonus just in time to save his family’s farm, and the only stable home his sister’s ever known, from foreclosure.



When the two end up on the same ship in the middle of the Mediterranean for a clandestine reconnaissance mission, Mt. Vesuvius isn’t the only thing that could erupt.



Will Nathan sink her ship of dreams before it ever leaves port, or will the way to love be smooth sailing?




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Excerpt




Chapter One

Laura Armstrong
strode toward the building housing the New York offices of Imperial Cruise
Lines. Her stiletto heels clicked a staccato on the sidewalk as she tested the
limits of her snug pencil skirt.

Tapping out a message on her smart
phone, her mind five steps ahead, she nearly took a header when the heel of her
shoe plunged into a sidewalk seam. The text message all but forgotten, she
twisted and turned, unable to dislodge the stubborn heel.

Risking a tear in the cherry red
patent leather of her sky-high Louboutin ankle-straps – the ones with the
plunging vamp revealing her sexy toe cleavage – wasn't an option. But between
the ankle strap and her figure-hugging skirt, she couldn't slip out of the shoe,
nor could bend over and unfasten it either.

Perfect. She'd be late for her meeting
with Imperial's CEO.

Daddy Dearest thought Giddings-Rose
couldn't handle an account the size of Imperial. Check that. He thought she
couldn't win an account the size of Imperial.

Determined to prove her father wrong,
she'd get the account and the corner office. That is if she could pry her heel
out of the sidewalk.

Bustling New Yorkers in suits and
skirts just stepped around her, dodging her like an out-of-place trashcan.
“Well, sh–”

“Hold still, Sugar, or you'll break
the heel.” The masculine voice called to mind the mellow sweetness of the fine
Kentucky Bourbon she'd once sipped at the Derby. Rich and mellifluous, with a
hint of Southern graciousness. Even so, there was no denying the authoritative
tone. “And that would be a damn shame.” The hand that wrapped around her ankle
from behind was broad and masculine, but well-manicured, topped with an elegant
Cartier watch.

Not her type. She preferred her men
with a little more grit than polish. So why did tantalizing warmth spread up
her leg?

With adept fingers, he unbuckled the
ankle strap and lifted her foot from the still-lodged shoe. Having no other
choice to avoid either resting her bare foot on the filthy Manhattan sidewalk
or the humiliation of falling on her face, she reached back and grabbed his
shoulder.
Hmm. No padding there. Nothing but
muscle beneath that expensive tropical weight wool suit. She caught a glimpse
of charcoal gray fabric, dark hair, and Italian shoes in rich mahogany leather.

But she'd yet to lay eyes on her
rescuer's face.

Nathan Maxwell took advantage of the
up-close and personal view. Trim ankles met shapely, muscular calves, and
judging from the fit of her skirt, a firm derriere topped off those
swimsuit-model legs. Beneath his touch, soft skin beckoned further exploration.
Long honey-blond hair hung almost to her waist in a sleek ponytail. The
fragrance of her haute couture perfume drifted over him, reminding him of
magnolia-scented summer nights.

Focusing on the task at hand, he
gently pried the heel from the sidewalk seam and examined it. “No harm done.”
He grasped her ankle and settled her foot back into the shoe and fastened the
strap, but not before noticing the firecracker red nail polish. He laughed.
“Here you go Cinderella.”

The warmth of his laugh slid over her,
knocking her a little off balance even though she'd placed her foot firmly back
on the ground. “Thank you, uh . . .” She turned and looked up into golden brown
eyes the color of that same sweet Kentucky Bourbon. 

“Nathan, Nathan Maxwell. My pleasure,
ma'am.” He flashed a devastating grin, igniting gilded sparks in his eyes.

There was that Southern drawl again –
subtle, like the peach undertones of a fine Pinot Gris. “You're not from around
here, are you?”

“My accent give me away?” Her sardonic
smile weakened Nathan's knees more than any toothy grin ever did.

“No, your courtesy.”

Nathan chuckled. “My grandmother would
have expected nothing less.” Her eyes, cool blue like the May sky overhead,
captured his and held. No shrinking violet, this one, he mused. A full,
determined mouth painted to match the red of her toenails set off an arresting
face with high cheekbones, a stubborn chin, and aquiline nose. 

“Well, thank you, Nathan.” Maybe she
should add suave polished men with a hint of Rhett Butler to her menu, Laura
thought. Her phone, all but forgotten in her hand, buzzed. “I, uh, I've got to
go. Thanks again, Nathan Maxwell.” Something about the way his name rolled off
her tongue. She answered the phone as she walked away, “This is Laura.”

Nathan watched as she strode down the
sidewalk, hips swaying to some inherent rhythm. “Come on, Laura, glance back.”
She turned and gave him what he wanted, another look at that bold, beautiful
face.

“It's going to be a great day.”
Glancing at his watch, satisfied with the outcome of the errand that brought
him to this part of Manhattan in the first place, he hailed a cab back to his
office.

*****

Giving
herself a mental snap-out-of-it slap to shake the charming Rhett Butler from
her thoughts and focus on the goal, Laura briefed Katie, the head of the
Giddings-Rose research team, on her latest project.

“I'm going to need the demographics on
Imperial Cruise Lines, and its three closest competitors, ASAP.”

“We're going after Imperial? What
happened to Kendall-Monroe?”

“Fired. And use your street team to
find out the inside scoop on Kendall-Monroe and Hawk Media. I'm on my way to
meet with the CEO of Imperial now.”

“Damn, woman, you work fast.”

“Jackson Jefferies is a long-time
friend of the family, so getting a sit down was easy. Convincing him to listen
to someone besides my father is a different story.” Jackson Jeffries was the
CEO of the cruise line, one of her father's closest friends . . . and one of
her father's best customers. Her family's shipbuilding business built
Imperial's liners, and Jackson relied heavily on her father's counsel. 

While at her best friend's wedding
over the weekend, Laura's father had received an email from Jackson saying
they'd fired their advertising agency. Since her irksome father had already
given a competitor agency a heads-up that Imperial was in the market, time was
of the essence.

“If anyone can convince him, it's you.
You could sell moonshine to a teetotaler.”

“Thanks. I think. Anyway, wish me
luck.”

“Good luck. And call me when you're
done.”

Laura stashed her phone and entered
the cool two-story lobby, walking directly to the security desk. After signing
in, she took the elevators to the top floor for one of the most important
meetings of her career.

A full-service advertising agency,
Giddings-Rose had made a name for itself creating ad campaigns for traditional
Fortune 500 companies, including insurance companies, department stores, banks,
airlines, and manufacturers. But Laura's goal was to drag Giddings-Rose kicking
and screaming into the twenty-first century, with accounts who wanted rich
media campaigns, digital brand development, interactive marketing and
communications strategy, and pay-per-click campaign management. The future of
advertising.

When she'd first approached Curt, the
agency's VP of Business Development, about Imperial and its needs he'd been
skeptical, but the agency couldn't count a cruise line among its accounts, and
having one would look good in its portfolio. And on his resume.

“What do you want, Laura?” Curt had
asked.

She'd used her tough-minded skills on
him. “I want your job, but I bring you Imperial, I'll take the VP of
Client Management that's coming open.”

“You bring me Imperial, and we'll talk
about it.”

“No.” She approached his desk. “I've
reeled in some big fish for this agency. It's time I reaped the rewards of all
that hard work. Dammit, Curt, you know I deserve it.”

Curt had held her gaze. “I know. Look,
I'll go to bat for you, but I can't promise anything.”

“That's all I'm asking. Thanks, Curt.”

The elevator doors opened on the lobby
of Imperial Cruise Lines bringing Laura back to the present. She took a deep
breath and stepped onto the polished marble floor with all the determination of
a gladiator stepping into the Roman Colosseum. “Showtime.” 

*****

Nathan
sat down at his desk, as his assistant followed him in with phone messages and
meeting requests. He'd only been at Hawk Media a week and already had a full
schedule.

“Mr. McCutcheon would like to see you
when you get a moment, and I need you to sign these forms for your corporate
credit card.” Cassie placed the stack of messages on the desk and handed him
the forms.

“Thanks, Cassie. This credit card
can't come soon enough. I need you to book a trip for me. Here's all the
information.” Nathan handed her a brochure with the ship circled. He didn't
care what itinerary, as long as he got on that ship. He'd already completed the
company's travel profile so Cassie would know his preferences. “And I need it
booked first thing.”

Cassie took the brochure, lifting a
brow. “Is this business or pleasure?”

“Oh, this is business, but who says
they're mutually exclusive?” He gave her a wink as he rounded his desk.

The corridors of Hawk Media were
hushed, the plush carpeting lending a soft touch to the otherwise glass and
brushed chrome ultra-modern office space. The account executives whose offices
lined the halls were hard at work, studying spreadsheets, talking on phones,
tapping out emails, or meeting with members of their teams. A group stood in front
of an oversized digital white board in what served as the agency's idea space,
throwing suggestions up on the board.
The nimble mid-size company had only
been around a little over ten years, but they were making a splash in the ad
biz, especially after they'd snatched the Kensington hotel chain right out from
under Concept Advertising.

They'd done the same thing with
him.  

Hawk Media had wooed his biggest
account away from him, but while the CEO preferred the New York-based agency's
philosophy, he'd told Hawk that Nathan was part of the package. So after almost
ten years with the same boutique agency in Atlanta, first as an account
coordinator, before working his way up to senior account executive, Hawk had
come calling. And Nathan had listened. In the immortal words of Don Corleone,
“they'd made him an offer he couldn't refuse.”

Though it broke his heart to leave
behind his Buckhead home and the proximity to his sister, the siren song of the
Big Apple couldn't be ignored, and the position, Vice President of Business
Development, the salary, and the bonuses were too good to pass up. Especially
now when he needed the money.

He'd make a name for himself in the
big city. Not bad for a boy from the hills of North Georgia who'd once been
told he'd never be more than a whore's bastard.

First order of business – get the
Imperial Cruise Lines account.

“You needed to see me?”

Hawk looked up from his sleek
computer, “Yes. Have a seat.”

At only forty-six, Hawk McCutcheon was
on a high-speed trajectory to success. His blond locks lent him a
devil-may-care surfer look, but those who judged the book by its cover did so
at their own peril. A former All-American quarterback, he played by the rules,
but that didn't mean he didn't play a tough game. And while he had an easy
smile and a generous nature, he expected one-hundred-ten-percent from his
employees.  

Family photos ranged the credenza
behind his immaculate Lucite desk, including one of him and his father, U.S.
Senator Mitchell McCutheon, at the President's inauguration ball. Star-studded
lifestyle notwithstanding, according to his employees, Hawk was a tried and
true family man.     

“Where are we on Imperial Cruise
Lines?” Hawk eyed him over a pair of reading glasses.

“Cassie's booking my trip as we speak
– on the Nave dei Sogni – the first availability. Research team is
pulling demographics, financials, and current marketing collateral, and the
same information on Imperial's three closest competitors. Word on the street is
Imperial is looking to lower its age demographic, attract younger, more dynamic
clientele, with lots of sports and entertainment dollars to spend. And they're
building a smaller liner with an eye toward uncompromising quality and an even
higher staff-to-guest ratio to do it.

“We already have the data on the
spending habits of this demographic,” Nathan continued, “we just need to do
some number crunching. Imperial is looking for interactive marketing services
for the digital space. They fired Kendall-Monroe because the agency's ideas
were ... 'antediluvian,' to use the Junior Jeffries' term.”

“Well, we'll deliver fresh, innovative
ideas that will blow any competition out of the water. Pun intended,” Hawk
finished with a grin. His expression grew determined as he tapped the desk with
his finger, “I want this account and you're just the man to get it for me.”

*****

Jackson's
assistant escorted Laura into a modest-sized, but well-appointed office. Behind
the mahogany desk sat a man,  that
although her father's contemporary, looked years younger. His thick pewter and
silver hair, tanned, clean-shaven face, and ready smile gave Jackson Jeffries
the appearance of a well-aged movie star.

He rose as she approached his desk,
his gray eyes alight with approval as he appraised her.

“Little Laura Armstrong has grown into
a beautiful, poised young lady. How did that happen?

Last I saw you you were headed off to
college.”

She smiled at the compliment. “That
was a decade ago.”

“Has it been that long?” He indicated
a group of chairs around a beautifully-restored leather steamer trunk that
served as a coffee table. Models of Imperial's ships, old and new, ranged the
office on their own wood pedestals, down-lighting illuminating every detail.
Photos of dignitaries from around the world covered the walls.

It was a comfortable office. A
well-lived-in office. Not the showplace she'd expected from the CEO of one of
the world's most prestigious ultra-luxury cruise lines. But then again, she had
memories of Jackson as a kind, unassuming man. One who actually loved his wife
and children and didn't put the importance of the bottom line ahead of his
family.

“And now you're with an advertising
agency, and you'd like to talk to me about Imperial's business.” He leaned
forward, propping his elbows on his knees.

“Yes.” Despite his humble demeanor, he
always could cut to the chase. 

“All right. I'm game. Tell me about
your agency.”

Before she could start her pitch, the
office door opened and a tall, good looking younger version of Jackson entered
the room. Same thick hair, but light brown with hints of pre-mature gray at the
temples, same gray eyes, same ready smile. The apple didn't fall far from the
tree.

She remembered Jackson Junior, or
Jack, from dinners at the Country Club, golf outings, parties at her parents'
house, and high school. She'd tried her sixteen-year-old girl's wiles on him.
Four years older, he hadn't been impressed, having eyes only for Miss New York
and his girlfriend at the time, Stephanie Smallwood. They'd married after
college, only to get divorced five years later.

“Jack, you remember Milt's daughter,
Laura.” 

“Yes.” His eyes lit up. “Of course.”

Laura was about to tell me a little
about her agency–”

“Giddings-Rose,” she supplied.

“Giddings-Rose?” Jack interjected.
“Laura, I should tell you, we aren’t looking for a traditional Madison Avenue
agency. We already fired Kendall-Moore. We want to move into the digital age,
freshen our brand and broaden our consumer base, with a focus on a younger
demographic.”

“You're speaking my language.” Laura
said with a grin.

Jackson beamed at his son. “Jack is
our Vice President of Customer Relations and he's been pushing for Imperial to
enter the age of social media.” He chuckled. “What I know about social media
could fit in a thimble.”

Laura jumped in with both feet.
“Imperial has catered to the older wealthy client, but with that clientele
dying off, the line needs to refocus its brand on a younger demographic, people
my age, with copious discretionary income.”

Jackson Senior and Junior eyed one
another.

Jackson spoke first, “We had that in
mind when we designed the newest ship–”

“The Nave dei Sogni,” Laura
interjected.

“That's right,” Jackson said, “and its
itineraries, shore excursions and onboard activities, but we haven't been able
to reach that client. Now we're building a new, smaller four-hundred-fifty
passenger liner – the ultimate boutique ship–”

Jack spoke up, “Which will offer
unstructured cruises that give passengers the feel that they are truly on a
personal yacht. This won't be your grandparent's cruise. Most passengers on the
Sogni
have been our usual clientele, perplexed by the offerings. The only
people your age we get on the ship are there because it's their parents’ or
grandparents’ anniversary or birthday.”
“Forget what you think you know about
Giddings-Rose,” Laura started. “We have the finest creative team in the
business, with two Webbys, five Addys, and one Mosaic, and fifty years of
experience combined, the media buying power of the large agency we are, but
with the digital savvy of an interactive agency. We give you the best of both
worlds. Strategic planning, web design and development, search engine
marketing, digital lead generation, digital brand development, rich media
campaigns, interactive marketing and communications strategy, data mining and
ROI assessment.” She took a breath.

“You don't have a cruise line in your
client roster,” Jack pointed out.

“No, we don't, but we do have an
international airline and a five-star hotel chain on our books, plus one of the
world's top travel companies, so we have experience in the high-end travel and
hospitality industry.”

Jackson glanced at his son, nodded.
“Okay. We'll give Giddings-Rose a shot.”

“But your initial research and
creative is on spec,” Jack added. “We'll expect your pitch the end of July, but
we'll have a pre-pitch meeting with both agencies before that. We'll be in
touch to set that up.”

Laura stuck her hand out to Jackson.
“Thank you.”

“It's a pleasure to see you again,”
Jackson covered their clasped hands with his other hand.

“You truly have grown into a beautiful
woman.”

“Thank you, Jackson.”

“I'll walk you out.” Jack guided Laura
through the door. “How did we not know you worked for an ad agency?”

She raised an eyebrow, “Have you met
my father?”

Jack laughed. “Right. Then how did you
find out we were looking?”

“My father blurted it out, forgetting
his daughter was in the business.” If he even knew in the first place.

“Maybe that's a good thing. A little
competition never hurt anyone, and Imperial can only benefit.”

They'd arrived at the elevators. “My
father was right,” Jack said, his face earnest.
“About what?” Laura turned to face
him.

“That you've grown into a beautiful
woman.”

Alrighty then. “Flattery will get you everywhere,
Jack, but I think I'm the one who should be sucking up to you.”

“Then you can start sucking up by
having dinner with me.”

She tilted her head as the elevator
dinged. “Perhaps.” She stepped into the elevator and turned around. Just before
the doors closed, she said, “Call me.”





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About the Author


Rebecca Heflin is an award-winning author who has dreamed of writing romantic fiction since she was fifteen and her older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna to her and told her to read it. Rebecca writes women's fiction and contemporary romance. When not passionately pursuing her dream, Rebecca is busy with her day-job as a practicing attorney.



Rebecca is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance, and Florida Writers Association. She and her mountain-climbing husband live at sea level in sunny Florida.



Awards:

2014 Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Award Winner (Dreams of Perfection)

2013 Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Award Winner (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence Winner (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award of Merit (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Georgia Romance Writers Published Maggie Finalist (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Shooting Star Award (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Finalist (Rescuing Lacey)

2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers Write Touch Readers' Awards Finalist (The Promise of Change)

2011 Royal Palm Literary Awards Finalist (The Promise of Change)