Making the Deal
(Deal Series, #1)
Publication date: October 25th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
They knew the merger wasn’t going to be easy. But Rayna and Jax never expected it to start with sparks flying.
Rayna is an attractive fiery entrepreneur and successful litigator who has grown her business incredibly. Now she has the sort of offer on the table that dreams are made of—more money, success, and power than she could ever imagine. And all she must do is form a partnership with a large law firm.
Jax’s ambitions have driven him to put everything into his firm, and this merger is supposed to take his firm to the next level. He is great looking, laidback, and a top corporate shark. He knows what he wants and believes he knows how to get it.
But when the pair meet for the first time, they instantly dislike each other, and a frustrating power struggle commences. But is it fueled by a merger of the firms? Or are shamefully attracted they are to each other…
Making the deal is the thrilling first book in the slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance series. If you like your stories filled with unexpected twists and turns and red-hot heart-pounding tension, this book was made for you.
He was late.
Ray tapped her nails on the side of her water glass and glanced again at her notes while she sat in the Tulip Tavern. She hated tardiness on a typical day, but it was incredibly irritating today. Today was the day she planned to put her merger to bed. Rayna Raven-or Ray, as she preferred- worked tirelessly for the last eight years to get to this moment. And she did not appreciate the extra wait.
She casually looked down at the bar, where she saw a delicious-looking man. He looked like he walked straight in off the beach. His tousled sandy blond hair and stormy blue eyes mirrored the sand and surf a couple of blocks down from Tulip. She pictured him towering over her and wrapping his muscular arms around her. Stop. She needed to focus on closing the deal. No way was that man Jax McKells. Too bad!
She was on the brink of closing a lucrative deal with McKells Reed law firm. And today, she was meeting its managing partner, Jax, to cinch the deal.
She took another sip from her water and made eye contact with Cam Allard, her best friend, on the other side of the bar. Cam glanced at her watch and raised a wry eyebrow, reading her impatience. She chuckled to herself, took a deep breath, and reviewed her notes. But the longer she waited, the more frustrated she became. She went back over her main selling points and flipped through her research on him.
Jaxon McKells was a Harvard-educated corporate shark with a ruthless reputation. He was merciless in closing deals, forcing concessions, and gaining leverage, and his clients always came out on top. She smirked. She was a top litigator, and he was a leading dealmaker, so they would likely clash before they finished things.
Then she rechecked her watch. Jax was now thirty minutes late. She was perplexed and annoyed. Disheartened, she stood up, began gathering her notes, and was about to head out of the tavern when a text message pinged. A message from him read, “While I enjoy trying out the beer at this quaint tavern you chose, I’d rather you let me know you couldn’t make this meeting rather than let me sit here for a half-hour.”
Her heart lurched. What? She watched for him the entire time. How could she miss him? She looked around for Jax. Then he texted her again. “I’ll be here for another 5 minutes to finish my beer. Let me know if you want to reschedule our meeting for another day.”
Oh. My. Goodness.
Was Jax at the tavern while she waited across the room? Where? As she looked around, she couldn’t see anyone that looked like a lawyer. She saw an old couple eating an early dinner and a family. The only other person was the handsome beachcomber down the bar from her. Was he the alluring beach fella dressed in light linen pants and a blue button-down shirt? He had rolled up his sleeves to reveal tanned, muscular forearms. Giving it a try, she headed down the bar to him.
Before she made her move, she typed a quick message to him. “I’m sitting behind you and have been for 30 minutes. Red suit, heading your way.”
As she approached the man she hoped to be, Jax, she noticed a confident smirk on his face. She focused on his full, sensual mouth. Also, he had a strong, square jaw and just the beginnings of laugh lines appearing at the corners of his eyes and that mouth. And was that an actual dimple in his chin? Then his expression shifted from amused to surprised.
He raised an eyebrow. “Ray? Ray Raven? Wow, you are not what I expected.” She stopped in front of him. She smiled. “Why do you say that?” Then he laughed. “I guess I assumed Ray was a guy.” Despite his rudeness, she felt a jolt of electricity between them and shivered. She ignored the immediate chemistry because she knew this meeting might transform her business. But would it change her life?
His comment got her temper up from all the infuriating words. She was excellent at her craft. And he shows up for a business meeting, looking like he just walked off the beach. He then questions her, seemingly about her reputation, hard work, and invention. Didn’t he do any research on a prospective deal?
Most people, including him, didn’t know she was also a software whiz. She used her legal mind and tech-savvy to develop computer software that would change the paradigm of the legal industry. Her program saved millions of dollars by quickly assessing and resolving employment cases. Word had gotten out about it, and she already had a few nibbles of interest from several prominent law firms. She wanted to do the deal with the McKells Reed law firm because of its resources and platform for growth. She also believed in the firm’s philosophy, community involvement, and pro bono work.
Before she lost control of her temper, she took a couple of breaths to reset. She reminded herself of why she was here and her goals. If she walked out on this deal, it would take her another ten years to do it alone. Or she could merge with McKells Reed and achieve those goals in a year.
He laughed. “Is there a reason you’re staring at me?” She almost missed his question. He leaned into her, and his subtle scent of sandalwood and salty air surrounded her. He smelled just how he looked—powerful and in control.
Then he stood up and waited for her also to stand. Once she was standing, he put his hand on her back and led her to a table in the front window. He then pulled a chair out and waited for her to sit down. Then he took a seat across the table from her.
She wanted to reach out and touch his hair to see if it was as soft as it looked. She came out of her Jax haze. Then she remembered his last question. He was annoying. He started staring at her first. Why was he blaming her when they were both blatantly staring?
She cleared her throat and tried to focus. Then he stood up again, but this time to sit in the chair closest to her. And she realized he was tall. She was just over five feet, so most people were taller than her. But he was a giant. He towered over her, leaving an ominous shadow to darken her surroundings.
Then he reached out, and his hand engulfed her hand. His gray-blue eyes met her crystal blue eyes. She continued. “Nice to meet you. Glad you found Tulip. It’s a hidden gem.” And he laughed. “Likewise. Yes, I’ve meant to try this place out, so thank you.” He looked around the tavern. And then his gaze went to her. She could feel the tension taut between them. She found it uncomfortable, but he seemed used to it.
How could her research have been so wrong about him? She struggled to connect him, the corporate raider, with Jax, the beach wanderer. She wasn’t sure now that her pitch was anywhere near correct. She’d planned to spin her firm as the thing that could transform McKells Reed’s litigation group back into the highly profitable group it once was. Her intel uncovered that the litigation group had been struggling for some time. She’d thought her courtroom success and innovative software would be stellar messaging to convince Jax.
But his entire demeanor seemed to downplay accomplishment in favor of comfort and confidence. She was successful in Charleston courtrooms. Just last week, she won a multimillion-dollar verdict. Not only that, but her software projected nearly the exact outcome found by the jury. The case garnered a media firestorm, allowing her to promote her legal prowess and fantastic invention. Yet he did not seem to recognize any of this. Therefore, this entire meeting confused her. He seemed oblivious to her success in the courtroom or that his firm approached her first regarding a merger. She shook the thoughts out of her head. No matter what, she would close this deal.
He stared at her, ready to start the discussion. “Rayna, what are you looking for in this deal?”
She then looked over at him. “While I am Rayna Raven, everyone calls me Ray.”
He considered her and even outright stared. “Honey, no one should call you Ray. With those fiery locks and taunting blue eyes, nothing less than Rayna will do.”
Her toes curled at the way he said her name. It just seemed to roll off his tongue in a way that was much too right. But it also annoyed her. If I go by Ray, he should call me Ray, she said to herself. Patience, patience. Don’t let your temper tank your dream; remember to stay the course.
He leaned over and continued. “Did you want to discuss the deal? What are your thoughts? What is your firm’s biggest success? And how can that success grow McKells Reed?” He shook out the napkin with a snap before laying it over his lap. When he stretched back in his chair, folding his arms over his very muscular chest, she struggled to keep eye contact and not stare at the dip of his throat peeking out from his unbuttoned collar. He was plain yummy.
He waited for her to respond. But when she did not, he continued. “I have read all the materials about the merger. And specifically, I looked at the software offering and expansion options. And I have to say that I’m not convinced. If your software is as good as you say it is, won’t that settle all our cases early, lowering our firm’s profits with lower billable hours? If it can predict the value of cases, that puts our litigators out of business, right?”
She felt her cheeks heat. Suddenly, she was out of her Jax haze, and her head was back in the meeting. He was clearly unimpressed with everything she had accomplished, and she felt the deal was now in jeopardy. She could not figure him out and how to swing the conversation back in her favor. Suddenly, she was furious that this cocky, blond beachcomber was wasting her time.
She took a deep breath and leaned forward. “The software’s strong reputation will allow McKells Reed to expand its client base, something it needs to do. Once you scale up the software to other practice areas beyond employment, those areas will get the same advantages. And, frankly, it’s time McKells Reed upped its game as a technology leader and shook off some of that stodginess.”
Cam approached the table. She was always able to calm Ray’s temper. This time it looked like Cam had eyed her telltale wrinkled forehead and bulldog eyes, signaling that her rage was flaring. Thank goodness Cam arrived at the table. “Hi, folks; sorry to interrupt. I’m Cam. Would you like to order?”
He smiled up at Cam and ignored her. “Thanks. Yes. We’ll have the ribs, fries, and slaw. Would you add a salad on the side? And we’ll both take whatever local brew you have on tap.” He polished off the beer he’d brought with him from the bar. She stared at him. He is unreal. He had the presumption to order for her! It took every ounce of self-control to keep her professional demeanor intact.
Cam smirked at her. She knew of Ray’s temper. “Thanks. I’ll go with your chicken pasta and iced tea.” Cam snickered and jotted it down before hustling off to grab their drinks.
He raised his eyebrows and leaned forward. But before he could begin, she shrugged and quickly straightened. She continued. “My firm’s biggest success is happy clients driven by excellent client management and my secret weapon, which is my software. It would allow your litigation group to boost its profits, keep more clients, and build its client base. The software allows your litigation group to focus its time and efforts on cases they can win and weed out the weak cases from the start. Even with all the experience in the world, we both know that sometimes a junk case gets through and wastes attorney time and client’s money.”
She sat back and waited for him to respond. Ok, so maybe she should break it down more for him. “This puts tools in your firm’s hands. Your greenest attorneys can assess risk, balance it, and pursue only the cases they should be pursuing. And it allows you to advise your clients and keep your promises. Changes like this thrill clients, and happy clients keep coming back. And repeat clients boost your profits.”
Notably, this jab might have been a little below the belt but judging from the glint that flashed in his eyes, he seemed excited by the challenge.
Cam approached the table and set down the drinks. “Beer for you and iced tea for you.” And she looked at her with a sideways grin. However, Ray didn’t take her eyes off him. And he could not help himself. He wanted to prick her temper further. “Are you sure you don’t want something stronger? A little bourbon would help calm that temper. I can see you trying to hide it.”
She laughed and then kept her voice even. “No, this is a business meeting. I keep business and pleasure separate. And I never drink in the middle of the day.” Cam quickly turned around and laugh-coughed as she hurried back to the kitchen to get their food.
He relaxed in his chair and continued to study her. She felt the weight of his gaze. “Not to frustrate you further, but the presumption that the software could truly impact the legal space seems like a stretch. Do you want me to go all-in on a project that will replace us, as our client’s trusted advisors, with software? That is tough to believe. Attorneys succeed based on relationships with clients. Fighting and winning for your clients is everything. Asking clients to trust the software, not the attorney’s knowledge and expertise moves us in the wrong direction.”
Her anger was bubbling over, and he saw it. He leaned to one side and took a sip of his beer, giving her a moment.
When she remained silent, he continued. “Our firm is not into the commodity business. What if a cheaper version of this software rolls out? Will the client abandon our firm to purchase the cheaper option? Your proposal degrades our core values. You are aware of McKells Reed’s mission, right? Relationships. Trust. Results.” He waited for half a beat. He took another swig of his beer and set down his glass. He concluded. “I don’t see the win here for McKells Reed.”
She pushed out the breath she didn’t know she was holding and took another. She calmly kept eye contact and watched him. “I’m a little confused. I understood that McKells Reed was a yes to this deal. Many other firms are interested in partnering with me, but I thought we shared a vision. Are you saying McKells Reed is no longer interested in closing the deal? If so, I will move on and save our time here. What I am offering with my software supports the McKells Reed mission and, coincidently, my mission of fostering and growing client relationships by providing them with ALL the tools possible to get the best results. I won’t pad the profit margin with unnecessary client billing and won’t lie about the legitimacy of cases.”
She paused and took a breath, looking at his strong hand resting on the table. She looked up. “If you cannot see the deal’s worth based on my legal reputation and the software valuations I’ve provided, we can just go our separate ways.”
He held up his hand. “Facts and figures are one thing. And I’m not saying they are unimpressive. But we must talk about the role you and your software bring to the structure of McKells Reed. Where do you fit into our day-to-day operations and overall culture?”
She was silent as she thought about this question. Did they fit? Why was he talking about how the merger would be structured if he wasn’t interested in the software? Or was it something else?
Choosing the first, she said, “Shall we begin?”
He looked at her; she felt like an ant under his scrutiny. He stared at her like he was appraising a work of art with so much concentration. She felt the powerful urge to roll her eyes but didn’t; that wouldn’t be professional. And she was always professional.
“My time is up for the day. Why don’t you meet me at my house at seven tomorrow night, and we can talk more? Here’s the address.” He stood, scratched out his address, and finished his beer. As he set down his glass, he looked at her. “Dress code is casual.” His eyes flicked to her chest for the briefest second before focusing on her eyes. “Try to relax and come ready for an honest and personal conversation. Your data and metrics are not allowed.” He then turned and headed for the door.
Cam watched him leave and set both plates on the table. “And here’s your food. Is he coming back?” She frowned and shook her head, watching his retreating frame as he walked out the front door.
She then looked up and laughed, feeling her body relax and return to normal. She was not intimidated by him. And she couldn’t afford to be intimidated by someone with whom she was going into business. She had gotten too far for this to be a stumbling block.
Well. Let’s begin, she thought.
Shelby MacKenzie has always navigated life based on her own rules. While she lives in Midwest, she loves to wander, especially to the east and west coastlines. Shelby enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and critters alike. And true to her Midwest roots, she has a soft spot for holiday decorations, including an abundance of spooky things and copious amounts of felt Christmas decorations. When Shelby is not writing, she edits legal briefs, serves as a taxi driver to kids’ activities, and engages in mischievous antics with her friends.