The Rivalry by Lynn Forest – Chapter One

Chapter One

Kristi Linwood felt tired and apprehensive as she pulled back the covers and slipped into bed. The bed may have been familiar to her, but not the apartment it had been moved into three days before. A new apartment in a new city, and the next morning a new setting in which to work: nothing there to produce anxiety, now was there?

She also knew that she would be working with some people she had never met before, having to learn names and idiosyncrasies of people she would have to supervise. There was also a twinge of uncertainty in that she was not sure where she would fall into the management hierarchy when all the dust had settled. So was the modern day plight of those caught up in such mergers and acquisitions that have become so common in big business.

She reminded herself that she would need to be constantly aware of how she was projecting her own personality. She had no intention or desire to find herself in any diminished capacity in terms of levels of responsibility. For some time she had been a manager—a damned good manager, as she liked to frequently reassure herself. The last thing that she wanted to do was find herself uncomfortably low on the organization chart of the new company being formed by the merger. For Kristi there was only one direction for her to move on the organizational chart, and that was illustrated by an arrow pointing upward.

When she turned out the bedside lamp she felt as lonely as she ever had in her life. Even though some of the faces would still be the familiar ones she had worked with for some time, and one of them was a close friend, she felt oddly as if she were about to embark on a completely new life. She did not at all like the way in which she was suddenly feeling a loss of control over her own destiny. Save for a picture on a press release, she had not so much as met the man who had purchased the two companies to be fused into one.

She slid down beneath the covers and pulled them up to her chin, a habit since childhood that gave her a feeling of security and protection against all unknown factors. This time the unknown was almost overwhelming.

Since moving days earlier, all of her time had been taken up by the tedious and nerve-wracking process of having her belongings and furnishings arrive at the correct address and placed in just the right way by the movers. Her new apartment was really the only thing in order in her life at the moment. She had not even seen a photograph of what her new work environment would look like. As a result, she could not fulfill her habit of mentally rehearsing how she would walk and generally present herself to those new coworkers she did not know. She wanted to make a first impression under her own conditions.

She also felt quite alone on a personal level. It had been a long time since she had shared a bed with a man, and when that fact came to her consciousness she thought back to her ex-husband, the relationship with whom had been annulled several years before. In her moments of loneliness she was forced to be honest with herself. She may have looked back upon him as being a jerk who did not respect her feelings, but in reality she knew that she had only projected her own confusion upon him. Due to her own unwillingness to be candid with him, she had found herself angry with him on an ongoing basis. And in such quiet and haunting moments—such as every night, when she went to bed alone—she had to admit to herself that she never really disliked the man. She had simply fallen out of love with him because there was a distance between them that could not be breached.

She closed her eyes and laid her arm across her forehead. She simply did not understand herself. He had always told her to feel free to express to him any carnal desires or fantasies that dwelt within her. At that stage in her young life it was something she simply could not bring herself to do.

Eventually the distance between them was more than either could handle, and she was most surprised when she found out that he was seeing someone else on the sneak. She felt almost relieved when he confessed the news to her, and they immediately agreed to an annulment.

She exhaled a deep sigh. Why could she not bring herself to confess to the man who had so loved her, for a while, at least, that she had some quite interesting and kinky ideas as to what could be a turn-on? There may have been no excuse for his adultery, but she could not help but wonder how things may have turned out if she had been more able to confide to him her romantic desires.

Perhaps she had never heard any of her girlfriends broach the subject—and, for that matter, maybe no one she knew had ever commented about it—but why was it so nearly impossible for her to simply tell him that she would have found it quite arousing for him to spank her? She wasn’t asking for him to do anything illegal, and in her rational moments she knew that there was nothing really immoral about it. Nonetheless, she simply could not bring herself to allow the words to pass her lips.

As she had since her early adulthood, she would drop what she thought were hints, little tidbits of suggestion that always fell far short of actually conveying her interest in things kinky. Each time she had chided herself for her lack of candor there was some excuse she could make to herself for her reticence.

Since the annulment, as before and even during the marriage, she had daydreamed of scenarios in which she would find herself confessing that desire to some man who could fulfill it for her, or perhaps even decide upon his own volition that it was something she was in need of. After all, her force of personality in the business world had on more than one occasion caused a man to look at her with a gleam of unhappiness that could have led to a number of ways in which such disapproval could be expressed. But that was only in her imagination.

The only time when she allowed free reign to her fantasy was at night alone in bed, when her pent-up frustration turned to arousing thoughts that had to be addressed. At least in the darkness she could close her eyes and allow her fingertips to join into her imagined erotic adventures.

She would imagine herself being playfully and lightheartedly spanked by a boyfriend during some romantic horseplay. At other times she may conjure up a situation in which a spirited argument with a lover led to her being taken across his knee. Sometimes she would relish a situation in which she would treated to the feel a strong man’s hand warming her bottom, and at other times visualize herself bending over and being whacked with a wooden paddle.

Now in a new city and a new setting, she had no reason to think that such a thirst would ever be quenched here, any more than it had been in other places. After all, it was not as if this new chapter in her life would be any more interesting than the previous ones.

She would continue on as she always had, keeping her desires a closely-held secret even to her closest of friends. Of course, she would continue to occasionally tease herself by making the random comment with a double meaning around some attractive man who would fit well into her bedtime fantasy for that evening. It was as close to acting out her desires as she would allow herself to venture.

***

Kristi rolled her eyes and laughed derisively as her assistant and friend Holly Cameron helped her carry a box of personal belongings to what would be her new office cubicle. On the fifth floor of Harmon Tower on Walsh Avenue in Lincoln, Nebraska, office workers were sometimes bumping into each other as they made their way around the large open office space, carrying boxes while also navigating crude maps that helped them find their new workspaces.

At the other end of the cavernous area filled with enough partitions and cubicles to house forty staff members Garrett Mason was placing his own box of belongings on what would be his desk.

The merger of Simpson Office Logistics and Kilmer Logistical Enterprises was going to be an interesting experience, and a test of patience for all involved. The building maintenance staff had not turned on the air conditioning to the floor early enough on this warm early June morning, and everyone who would occupy a space there had experienced a frustrating day of waiting for elevators that also served the other residents of the ten-story-tall office building.

Nearly everyone was soaked with perspiration by the time the air conditioning finally caught up with the outside air temperature and the added heat of so many active bodies in a confined area. Now the employees went from feeling hot and muggy to chilled as the cool air began to drift across their damp clothing. Nonetheless, nearly everyone was attempting to be patient and civil not only with their familiar coworkers, but their new compatriots resulting from the merger of two former rival companies in the business of office outfitting.

Those who had worked with Kristi would step aside when they saw her coming, each of them wondering how the general discomfort of the temperature and humidity may spark her already-sharp tongue and temper. None of them wanted to be overheard suffering another harangue from her, for she did not have a habit of doing such things in total privacy.

Her scolding of subordinates was legendary. She did not back down from giving a good chewing out to a man three times her size, and did not appear to be affected when a female under her supervision would be reduced to tears. The last thing that anyone who had worked with her wanted that day was the embarrassment of being dressed down by Kristi as they were in the process of making their first impressions on new peers.

It was just after 4:00 PM when the still-somewhat-anxious staff members were able to wind down and make their new designated workspaces as comfortable as possible without the privacy of fixed walls, something both office staffs had been used to in their former locations.

Finally, a tenor voice shouted out over the murmuring of dozens of voices. “Attention everyone… I would like for everyone to gather down here at the end of the room.”

Garrett Mason turned to see his new boss for the first time. Jerry Howard was the new owner of both companies, having purchased Simpson Office Logistics and Kilmer Logistical Enterprises during a three-day marathon of bargaining with two ready-to-retire company owners. Jerry was in his late forties, fresh off several spectacular years as an unusually young hedge fund manager, ready to relocate to the Midwest and take his career and established fortune in another direction.

Jerry Howard stood and watched as forty subordinates gathered around him, smiling to them and shaking hands until everyone had assembled and he could address the newly formed office staff. And one of those office staff members had certainly caught the attention of Garrett Mason.

Although he had spent nearly the entire day moving his belongings into his own cubicle, larger than most because of his position as a manager, he had managed to catch a couple of fleeting glimpses of the slender and petite but absolutely gorgeous woman who seem to be somewhat curtly directing people he had not yet met.

For that matter, there were a couple of incidents he had witnessed where he thought that this attractive but demanding woman had gone a little too far in voicing her displeasure with those around her. Although he had not met her and was unaware at that point as to her role in the new organization, he had to fight the impulse to confront her. He could not recall when he had so wanted to call out another adult for unnecessarily harsh behavior.

Her demeanor was one of being all business, and he noted that she did not smile often. Still, she had certainly caught his attention. And there she was standing at the front of the group, and he would have a hard time concentrating on what Jerry Howard was about to say to the assembly.

“I am Jerry Howard, and I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you personally. As you complete the process of moving in together I know there’re going to be some challenges. But, as I assured the former owners of your companies, and some of you in individual conversations, there are some benefits to come along with what will be some major adjustments for all of you. As you know, I promised that there would be no layoffs. And that is a promise I intend to keep.

“As our merger moves on it is to be assumed that we will find that operations will be streamlined. But any staff reduction will be accomplished by attrition through the course of time. We have our two primary managers in place: Kristi Linwood of Simpson Office Logistics and Garrett Mason of Kilmer Logistical Enterprises, who will co-manage operations.”

Garrett glanced at the fetching young woman in the form-fitting blue jeans and damp red T-shirt, a shirt she was pulling away while fanning herself with her other hand. And then she glanced at him, but it was more of a glare, a grudging acknowledgment of his presence, as their new boss continued.

“A decision will be made in the near future as to the name of this newly-merged corporation, as well as long-term decisions as to the management hierarchy. A newly-formed board of directors has been assembled to oversee what has been two privately-held corporations.

“Among our challenges will be the integration of sales with the existing customers of both former companies and coordinating effort where duplication exists. In the meantime, you will identify yourself to customers with the names of the previous companies, as they are still on record and their articles of incorporation are being kept up to date.

“We are going to need your ideas for advertising and promotion. We want to assure our customers that there will be no drop-off in service or responsiveness. Kristi Linwood and Garrett Mason are going to be shouldering these major responsibilities on a shared and, I assume, cooperative basis.” A smile and a laugh emerged on his face as he lightheartedly pointed a finger at each of the managers who stood about twelve feet apart. In response, the two of them nodded their ascent toward the boss, but their eyes met for only a moment.

Jerry Howard continued. “While I am on that subject, I wish to say that I have high and serious expectations for staff to come together into a cohesive workforce, especially since we made sure that no jobs were lost. Each of you will find a business card in the center drawer of your new desk. Although you will also find in the same drawer a flow chart showing who each of you will report to on an interim basis, if you have concerns that cannot be addressed to your satisfaction by your assigned manager you may contact me by phone, text, or e-mail according to the information on that business card.

“One more thing: as you look at the flowchart, you will see that I have made certain that some of you will be reporting to a new manager. And as you have moved your belongings in today, it is apparent to you that I have purposely positioned you so that you will be in close proximity to people you do not know very well. I think that you need no further explanation for why I have done that.

“Garrett and Kristi… I know that we have all had a long day, but also in the center drawer of your desks you will find a somewhat informal startup manual I wrote up to delineate your first duties as this merger gets underway. I hope that you can take some time this evening to look that document over, so that in the morning we can start getting used to our new company. Thank you, everyone. Go home and relax.”

***

Kristi and Holly Cameron sat at a downtown café a block away from their new place of work, spearing at their salads and sipping iced tea. The bespectacled, red-haired Holly glanced at the woman who was both her boss and close friend over the tops of her glasses. “I think I noticed your new co-manager taking some glances at you today.”

Kristi shook her head and waved away the suggestion. “I have too much on my mind of much greater importance than to notice something like that.”

Holly laughed softly. “The… something like that… you referred to is, let’s see, quite good-looking. And what, about 6’2” or 6’3”? And big brown eyes? Altogether he seems to be one scrumptious package.”

Kristi look back at her and laughed. “Okay, he is easy on the eyes. But that has nothing to do with anything. It’s going to be damned hard working out all of the details of this merger. And I don’t intend on letting myself get steamrolled by a man jockeying for a higher position than my own just because he’s a man.”

Holly reached over and took her friend’s hand in hers. “Before we had to relocate from Omaha, I thought that eventually you would get yourself back in the game. That relationship with Brady that went sour is long enough in the past. Maybe if a man like Garrett is focusing those killer deep brown eyes on you, maybe you should look back. I would hate to see you dismiss such an opportunity out of hand.

“You see, Kristi, I was talking to that Elena Powell from their customer service unit, and she talked about what a great guy he is. She’s worked for him for three years, and she says he has a great personality and is a man of solid character. He was married for a couple of years, but his wife grew bored with living in the Midwest and filed for an annulment. So he is certainly available.”

Kristi moaned and shook her head. “My gosh, we have just worked together for one day. Considering everything we have ahead of us before the merger is fully implemented, I cannot imagine complicating things so much by getting involved with my co-manager, especially since I can hardly tolerate the arrangement the boss spelled out in that impromptu staff gathering.”

“Come on, Kristi. You need to let yourself enjoy life a little more. A little romance would be good for you.”

Kristi moaned and placed her hands over her eyes. “Don’t you dare try to get anything started.”

***

Garrett stretched out on his sofa in his new apartment. He appreciated that his moving expenses had been paid along with those of all of his coworkers, but the new apartment simply didn’t have the same character and ambience of the previous one. Feeling restless, he picked up the manual Jerry Howard had referenced during the impromptu meeting at the end of the day and began to read.

He was surprised that the narrative contained so many direct references to himself and Kristi Linwood by name. It went over their immediate responsibilities to coordinate the product lines of office furniture and equipment and office supplies that had been sold individually by the two previously separate companies.

It also called upon them to select an individual to fully integrate the accounting duties. As he continued reading there were references to combining personnel records, payroll administration, and dozens of other incremental things involved in making a company function smoothly. He did note that in no part of the narrative was there any mention of the naming of one overall general manager.

Garrett did have ambitions and would welcome career advancement as much as the next person. But he liked the field in which he worked and would not be likely to want to move on to another company if he was not named to be the general manager. His initial impressions of the city of Lincoln were positive, and he began to wonder if, at the age of thirty, it may be a good place to settle down and think about some permanent companionship, and perhaps even having a family of his own.

***

In the same area of town where Garrett’s apartment building was located, a block away Kristi leaned back against the headboard of her bed in her pajamas and reading the startup narrative Jerry Howard had written. A CD player softly played Mozart in the background as she read over the words of her new boss with some irritation. And as was the case with Garrett in his apartment, there were still boxes of belongings to be unloaded and put away.

She wasn’t reading anything that she had not already assumed to be the type of things that had to be taken care of upon the implementation of a merger. What she was finding vexing was that there was no reference to how the issue of having a top-level management position was going to be settled.

With their previous owner she had been able to operate the company office as she pleased. The owner had several significant health problems and was only able to be in the office one or two days per week, most operations having been delegated to Kristi out of necessity.

The owner had never really asked the office staff their opinion of the arrangement, as Kristi was the only one with the comprehensive knowledge of operations to fit into that role. That being the case, there was no opportunity for subordinates to express to the owner that while Kristi was generally fair and honest, she was often quite sharp and pointed in her comments, and did not like to have her authority or opinions challenged on any regular basis.

Kristi’s ego would not allow for her to entertain the possibility that anyone but herself would end up in charge of the everyday business operations of the newly merged company. She had not yet had the opportunity to have any discussions with Garrett Mason, but there was something about him that put her on guard and fearful that she may have a serious rival for that position right out of the gate.

If that were not bad enough, she was getting the impression from some of Jerry Howard’s comments and written narrative that he was entertaining the possibility of having two managers of equal authority and responsibility work side-by-side as a permanent arrangement. To Kristi such thinking was not feasible. To her thinking, someone always had to be in charge and in a position of final authority. For her tastes, that role should be hers.

She knew that one of them would have to make the initial move to begin working out all the details of bringing two companies into one. She debated whether it was best for her to take the initiative and set a tone of being in charge or wait for Garrett to come to her, putting him in a position of having to request that she began to work with him. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, trying to decide which approach would give her the immediate upper hand in the power struggle she assumed would soon unfold.

She realized at that point that she was smiling. There was nothing she relished more than planting her flag in a corporate setting. Nothing more, except for waiting for others to salute that flag.

***

The next morning, Garrett strolled to the other end of the large office area, greeting people along the way, introducing himself and struggling to remember names. Eventually he came to Kristi’s cubicle, a larger workspace like his own, but she was not there. He turned around and began to walk back, then heard a soft voice from behind. “Garrett, were you looking for me?”

He turned to see Kristi and was distracted at first by how she looked in her perfectly tailored white pants suit. On move-in day they had all dressed for manual labor, but today Kristi was dressed as the professional manager that she was and Garrett was in his navy blue pinstripe suit. That would be the case in most days, when he would be dressed in such a manner, and Kristi would wear either a business pantsuit or a dress or skirt. The rest of the staff were allowed to dress more casually.

He smiled and stepped toward her and placed his hand out, and she took it and they shook. “Kristi, sorry I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself yesterday. I was wondering if we could talk.”

She nodded, and they began to stroll slowly through the maze of cubicles, neither one of them noticing the smirks and winces being exchanged by several of the people who had worked for Kristi for some time. She spoke first. “I take it you had a chance to read Jerry’s narrative? I thought that it was limited in scope and lacking in direction. It didn’t really give us a lot to work with, did it?”

Somewhat taken aback by the critical comment, Garrett shrugged and forced a smile. “I think I understand where he’s coming from. He wants to make a lot of people feel comfortable and secure and give us a chance to work as many things out as we can without his direct intervention.”

A little louder than she should have, and obviously wanting to stake her claim to prominence, she stopped walking and folded her arms. “Garrett, I think that you need to understand that I have more years in management experience than you, and I’m certain that Jerry is going to take that into consideration in his future decision-making.”

Heads began to crane upward as staff members went quiet and looked over the tops of the cubicles and listened as Garrett responded. Eyebrows raised and mouths formed circles as they whistled silently.

Garrett was taken aback by her brashness. “You do indeed have a couple of more years of experience in management, but I understand it was only in managing an office outfitting business. Before I spent the last four years as a manager with Kilmer Industries, I managed a nationwide warehouse shipping operation firm for three years. But I don’t think that Jerry is going to be looking at numbers and basic factors such as that. I think he’s going to simply want to see who fits the best in the position, and that’s if he wants to go with a single general manager at all. He simply may want us to share duties and work side-by-side.”

She stopped and folded her arms. “I don’t see the logic in that, and I don’t think that Jerry will for very long.”

Sensing they were being overheard, now it was Garrett who raised his voice a few octaves. “In any case, his judgment, not ours, will be the one that will matter. So we need to get on with business.” The expression on Kristi’s face was nothing but hostile.

Those who were listening in silently began to exchange expressions once again, as they knew that Kristi was not going to be on board with the things that Garrett was saying and would be most unhappy that he was speaking to her in such a manner. As the two of them walked on once again, Helen Martin, who had worked for some time for Kristi, turned to look at Jim Brian, one of Garrett’s former employees on the other side of her cubicle wall.

She spoke to Jim in a whisper. “I think they’ll be dating within a month.”

Jim looked back at her with a grin. “I have five bucks that says you’re wrong.”

Their conversation was overheard, and within minutes, cubicle by cubicle, bets were being placed and jotted down on notepads.


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