Morning rays of sunlight created a halo effect around the god-like body of a six-foot-four man strolling through the parting glass doors of Kelly Towers. A collective gasp of soft feminine sighs rose over the swishing sound of the automatic doors closing. With the sun behind him, the man strolled down the red carpet toward the elevator right where makeup artist Zoe Baldwin stood.
Dear Lord, Zoe began her silent prayer, if ever there were a time to get stuck in the elevator, please let it be now and with him.
The denim jeans he wore clung to his powerful thighs. A thin, white, long-sleeved shirt hugged the sculpted muscles of his arms and abdomen. As he came closer, everyone in the lobby turned their heads in his direction. Thick, dark brows framed his almond-shaped eyes. A prominent chin jutted out from the sharp angles of his long, masculine face. Zoe cocked her head to the left and reached up to touch the signature hoop earrings she was known to wear. Instead of the cool gold circle, Zoe’s fingertip brushed against heirloom pearls handed down from her grandmother. The jewels had a reputation for good luck. Perhaps with this fine-as-hell gentleman coming closer, the hand-me-down stories were true.
Though he didn’t carry a portfolio, Zoe pegged her soon-to-be elevator companion as a male model. The fifty-three-story Kelly Towers was home to several of Miami’s elite businesses. The local news station was housed on ten floors, while Ravens Cosmetics, Zoe’s final destination, was housed on the fortieth through the forty-ninth. Modeling and a few talent agencies were sprinkled throughout the other floors. Zoe guessed he’d get off on one of those floors. For her, the only place she needed to be was at Ravens Cosmetics—the home of the oldest and most successful cosmetic line for people of color in the United States and now globally. And if today went as planned at her interview, she can call Ravens Cosmetics home as well.
In an attempt to flirt, Zoe licked her lips, tasting the hint of honey in the concoction she used for lip balm. The response she received from the gorgeous man was a lopsided, boy-next-door smile mixed with a hint of danger. The sensual curve of his full lips begged to challenge the question every makeup-wearing woman pondered: Was he worth smearing her lipstick for? His lips parted into a dashing smile and crinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes. An older model? Twenty-five? Twenty-eight? She’d heard RC was going in a new direction. It was about time they added someone more age appropriate to their ads for men. Then men in the ads for shaving, lotions, and other male care were handsome but also extremely young as in barely legal young. Under thirty as a male was far from old, but in the modeling world he might be ready to retire.
“Hello,” he said.
His deep baritone touched her soul. A powerful shiver trickled down her spine while her knees weakened. “Hi,” she replied.
With the limited skills she had in the flirting department, Zoe batted her lashes and damn it if her cell phone didn’t ring. The old-school Prince song indicated the hotline for one of her closest friends. It was almost a bat signal, and when that song rang, Zoe picked up the phone and answered. “Hey, what’s up?”
Lexi Pendergrass Reyes’s cheerful voice came over the line loud and clear. “I wanted to wish you luck before your interview.”
“You’re so sweet,” Zoe said as she offered an apologetic smile to the handsome man. Zoe stepped backward and did a little spin in an attempt to give the stranger a better view of her angles in her black pencil skirt and red silk Rochas blouse decorated with oversized magnolias. She’d received the blouse at a Vogue photo shoot last year, another lucky memento of her work. “Can I call you right back?”
“Of course,” Lexi said, “but don’t forget. On top of wishing you the luck you don’t need, I do have a huge favor to ask of you.”
The flashing triangle light above the elevator doors indicated it was coming in a few seconds. “The answer is yes. I don’t even have to know what it is.”
“You say that now. Bye, girl.”
Zoe swiped the icon on her cell to hang up the call. She took a deep breath, ready to speak to her male model again. As a makeup artist, she noticed he needed no cover-up. She’d known some models and actors who’d paid to have cheekbones as sculpted as his.
“So,” he began, leaning against the marble wall near the up and down arrow-shaped buttons of the elevator.
“So,” Zoe repeated.
She was prepared to have some form of meaningful conversation in the span of the few seconds provided before the elevator arrived, but that was interrupted when the doors on the first floor leading to the building’s cafeteria opened up. It was not unusual in a place like this to run into some of the local celebrities. A gaggle of girls screamed at the sight of Zoe. Zoe and her magic beauty box kits were the reason certain faces graced the covers top beauty magazines. She’d decorated the face of movie stars, governors and their spouses, singers, and television reality stars. Torn between not having seen these ladies in quite some time and getting to the meat of this conversation with the hot guy, Zoe offered another apologetic smile. The man stepped forward and extracted a business card from his back pocket to give to her, then winked before turning to take the door into the stairwell.
“Hey, guys,” said Zoe, slipping the card into the front of her purse. “What’s going on today?”
The half-dozen girls began to complain all at once about having to come in this morning for music video which needed to be held in a cafeteria. Something about their makeup not being right and begging Zoe to ace the interview.
“Girl, that outfit is giving me life! There really should be no reason for you to interview,” said Clarita Benson. She was a six-foot-three model in flats
The next tallest was six two, a former volleyball star turned model. Her blond hair stuck out at the ends like straw. “I heard Marcus Ravens say you were the best person for the job.”
“I guess we’ll see in a little bit.” Zoe shrugged her shoulders and craned her neck. Thankfully, the elevator doors opened with a loud ding. “Listen, ladies, I’ve got to head off and ace this interview.”
The doors closed as the girls chorused, “Good luck!” Zoe leaned against the back of the compartment. She smiled at her reflection, knowing she’d dressed the part.
In truth, Zoe knew she was the right person for the position as the Creative Design Director at Ravens Cosmetics. She had a BS in biochemistry and an MS in cosmetic chemistry, both from Fairleigh Dickson University, held a license as a beautician and was the number one most-requested makeup artist at Fashion Week in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Her work with artists at Coachella over the last five years had gotten her noticed for the CDD position at several cosmetic companies.
Zoe only wanted to set roots down in the Miami office of Ravens Cosmetics. Call it a predestined destination. Her great-grandmother Sadie, affectionately known as GiGi, ran one of the largest cosmetology schools in the Southeast. Before leaving Mas Beauty School, all the students wanted to be an employee at Ravens Cosmetics, one of the oldest and most successful cosmetics companies founded by an African American woman for people of color. It would be a sign of success to join their company. Tears of pride and joy threatened to escape the corners of her eyes as she realized how close she was to following in her grandmother’s footsteps.
Just last week at the after party of a successful swimsuit fashion show, RC’s president, Marcus Ravens, had told Zoe the job was practically hers. The models on both of his arms swore Zoe was the best. And modestly Zoe had agreed.
Traveling in fashion circles, Zoe had met Marcus’s other board members, a group made up of siblings and cousins from the large family. Each of the directors represented shareholders, the elders of Ravens Cosmetics.
It had been hard to gauge how some of the Ravens women felt about her. In the world of fashion and cosmetics, everyone was either an enemy or an ally. For a very brief moment in Zoe’s life she’d modeled. Her knowledge of the industry, inside and out, put her in a threatening position. Plenty of times she’d stepped over the bounds with her makeup artist, questioning the chemicals they wanted to put on her face. She almost became difficult to work with. With her degree in cosmetic chemistry she could easily start her own line. But Zoe wanted stability in her life. Her parents married young before they had a chance to live out their dreams before settling down. Seeing her parents struggle to stay together while reaching their own dreams put a damper on Zoe’s outlook on relationships. Things were changing now. She was established and not to mention older than her parents when they married. Thirty was rapidly knocking on her door and a faint biological clock was ticking in the back of her mind.
Having reaffirmed her worth, Zoe took a deep breath. When the elevator dinged to announce her presence on the fortieth floor, the doors parted and opened up to a quieter situation than on the first floor. A half-circle African blackwood desk drew Zoe’s attention immediately, along with a receptionist who had curly, blond hair pulled up in a frizzy ponytail at the top of her head. A headset rested somewhere in the hair, Zoe guessed, because the girl held her finger up in Zoe’s direction but finished the conversation on the other end of the line before disconnecting the call.
“Miss Baldwin?” The young girl, whose foundation was poorly blended from her face to neck, rolled her eyes at the sight of Zoe. Clearly not a fan.
Zoe smiled and nodded. “Yes, that’s me.”
“Okay, so, you and the others are in the waiting room over there.”
The others? Using the eraser end of a pencil, the receptionist pointed toward a glass room adjacent to her desk. A minute ago Zoe had been giving herself a pep talk. She was sure the job was hers and she knew she’d earned it. But there were others? She stood at the glass door to the conference room where just over a half-dozen women and men sat waiting at a large oval table made of the same wood as the reception desk. In an instant, Zoe recognized everyone at the table, including Titus, her nemesis.
To make it to this level of her profession, Zoe had come across several—as the young model clients had called them—haters, and Titus was not her number-one fan. The one-name wonder scowled through the glass at Zoe, his long, tacky, feather lashes clumping together, causing him to have to pry them apart with his loud pink fingernails. Zoe refrained herself from rolling her eyes by sighing. The man claims to be the best yet can’t figure out which adhesive glue for lashes worked best. At the AJ Crimson event last year, Zoe’d almost had to tell him about himself when she found her artist’s kit at his station. He claimed the kit was accidentally placed there but Zoe knew better. He tried to steal it. A makeup artist’s beauty kit was as important to them as doctor’s stethoscope, a police officer’s badge, or even a mechanic’s tools. Zoe admired AJ Crimson for becoming a leader in the beauty world, bringing his popular brand cosmetics to pop culture through hip hop music, current top television shows such as Empire and Scandal. How badly did she want the Creative Design Director position? Zoe took a step backward.
“You’re not leaving are you, Zoe?”
Zoe turned around at the sound of Marcus Ravens’s voice. An automatic smile spread across her face at the sight of him. Marcus was a handsome man, tall, dark and charming. Zoe returned his friendly smile. All the models who did work for RC had gushed about him. “Hello, Marcus.”
“Are you going in?” Marcus nodded his head at the door. The others inside craned their necks.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” said Zoe.
Marcus retreated a step and glanced in both directions down the hall. He stepped closer to Zoe and touched her elbow. “There is, or was,” he said and shook his head. “There has been a slight change of plans. You see, my brother is here.”
Zoe slowly shook her head to the left and then the right. “Okay? I spoke with Donovan last week. He assured me the job is mine. All I’d have to do is meet with the board.”
“It is yours,” Marcus exclaimed. “You know you’re the best person for the job.”
“It seems someone thinks several people are the perfect person for the job.” Zoe inclined her head toward the room of other makeup artists.
“That’s what I’m trying to explain.” There was a panic in Marcus’s deep voice. He pressed one hand on Zoe’s shoulders as a vein pulsed at his temples which he tried to cover up by scratching the back of his neck with his other hand. “My brother—my other brother, Will—is responsible.”
“Will?” Zoe repeated. “I thought I knew everyone in your family.”
Back in middle school, Zoe had done one of her best biography reports on the Ravens family. She’d once known their family tree like the back of her hand. The Ravens started at the turn of the century selling beauty products to the wives of the men working on the railroad. It was Marcus’s grandparents, Joe and Naomi Ravens, who’d slapped a label on their business and marketed it nationally. Zoe learned all about the following generations of Ravens through the Roaring Twenties and the forties to the present. The younger generations were all connected via social media. All of the family members worked for Ravens, right?
On numerous occasions Zoe had crossed paths with the Ravens family, either in the Miami Design District or at Miami’s Fashion Week.
“He’s our youngest brother, and my cousins nominated him to be the CEO of RC.”
“Okay?” Zoe said slowly, still not following what that had to do with her and this interview.
“Will believes he should look at everyone interested in being the CDD.”
Zoe’s heart ached with a surge. “I’m not understanding, Marcus. You’re the president.”
“The CEO has a little more pull than the president,” Marcus explained. “And right now, he’s our last chance at keeping RC running.”
The rumors were true. Someone wanted to shut down Ravens Cosmetics. Zoe’s heart ached as if she’d been wronged. How could anyone think about dissolving this company? Five minutes ago she’d pumped herself up about wanting to board the RC ship. Now it felt like the ship was sailing away while she stood on the pier watching it depart. She asked herself again, how badly did she want to be the Creative Design Director?
“This is then a waste of my time, Marcus. I am too qualified to have to go through a screening process.” Zoe turned to leave. Through the glass, Zoe thought she saw Titus mouthing something to her. She was not in the mood for a fight. “Either you like my work or you don’t.”
With his hands still on her shoulders, Marcus clamped down firmly. He turned her to face him so her back was to the receptionist area. “I do, my brothers and sisters do, and Will is going to feel the same way.”
“You guys brought in Titus.” A tic began to flutter underneath her right eye. The other makeup artist was good, of course he was. But he’d copied her trademark 80’s style. This was too much stress for her. Zoe sighed impatiently. Grandma Sadie would have a fit if she knew Zoe got this far only to abandon her own resolve. “I just can’t deal with this, Marcus.”
“Will you at least listen to me first? I’ll get Donovan on the phone.”
“I’m right here.” Donovan’s familiar voice filled the hallway.
Not wanting any pity, Zoe didn’t dare turn around. Like his brother, Donovan had an extremely charismatic smile. Ever the charmer, he always knew how to bring out a natural blush on any model Zoe had worked on. If she glanced at Donovan, Zoe knew she’d swoon, and right now she was too pissed off to be cheered up. She kept her angry focus on the Windsor knot of Marcus’s tie.
“Tell her everything is still going on as planned,” Marcus said over her head to his brother.
“The interviewing process?” Donovan asked, and Marcus nodded. “It’s just a process.”
“Someone too good for an interview?” Another deep voice asked.
While the voice may have been sexy, the tone was not. Zoe spun on her heels, prepared to give this person a piece of her mind when she stopped and gaped. Instead of the fitted shirt and jeans she’d seen him in earlier on the elevator, he now wore a tailored two-thousand dollar classically cut navy-blue suit with a blue-and-yellow paisley tie. Suits made Zoe’s knees weak the same way lingerie did men’s.
“You?” The man brushed roughly against Donovan’s shoulders without apologizing.
“You?” Zoe repeated. “I don’t understand.” Zoe wondered how she hadn’t recognize the similarities. “Will, this is Zoe Baldwin, the woman we’ve been talking about.” Donavan clamped his hands on his brother’s back. “Zoe, this is our baby brother, Will.”
“You’re a makeup artist?”
“She’s the B in beauty business,” Donovan interjected.
So, the man from the elevator wasn’t a struggling model? Judging from the expensive suit he wore, he was far from struggling. Zoe shrugged her shoulders indifferently. “Artist, genius, whatever you want to call me is fine.”
“How about we keep it simple and call you interviewee number six?” Will asked.
Gone was the charming smile from downstairs. Zoe’s hand brushed against the front pocket where she shoved his business card. She extracted it and fingered the raised letters, assuming it gave the three initials of his position. CEO. Jesus Christ, this man with a dry sense of humor held her fate in his humorless hands. Somewhere in the back of her mind Zoe heard the proverbial ship sound its horn and sail off into the ocean.
At six in the evening, Will Ravens sat back in his newly ordered chair and tried to get the feel of it and the new position. He was in over his head. As a former professional soccer player for the Texas Raiders, the only thing he knew about women was what he was attracted to. Not being raised in the family business, Will possess the keen eye of makeup as his siblings but he knew what he liked and what he saw in the portfolios from the interviews this afternoon, there was nothing to catch his eye—that wasn’t necessarily true. The woman’s face from earlier this afternoon entered his mind. He thumbed through the portfolios of the potential CDDs. A silver paperclip fastened to the manila folder secured a photo of Zoe Baldwin’s heart-shaped face to the outside.
How was she the woman behind the makeup and not on the runway? Her flawless sienna-and-gold skin was radiant. Her chestnut-brown hair, secured today at the back of her neck, did not do her justice as the photograph before him did. In it, her mane hung over her shoulders and she smiled for the camera with one raised brow and a playful smile across her face.
“So, what did you think of Zoe Baldwin?”
Will dropped the portfolio at the unexpected interruption and cursed under his breath. “Jesus, Donovan, don’t you knock?”
“All the more reason to knock,” Will joked. The last round of complaints from their cousins were due to Donovan’s dating the models. He went through at least one on a weekly basis. They threw themselves at him. The one thing a lot of models wanted more than a modeling contract for a spread in an RC ad was to land one of the Ravens men. Having his brothers in charge of anything dealing with models was as productive as letting a fox guard a henhouse. Fortunately, Will, the youngest of the men, had more common sense.
Less than ten years ago, the new generation of Ravens had been placed on the board. Everyone owned an equal share of Ravens Cosmetics. Half of Will’s cousins wanted to dismantle the company. They were tired of the meetings and responsibilities. Will knew his great-grandparents were rolling in their graves at the idea. For the cousins, even the limited time they had to spend in the office was still not good enough. Will and his siblings, along with a handful of cousins, wanted to keep the legacy alive. The problem was, they were a band of eight against a band of another eight.
Donovan nodded his head. “Alright, you got me there.” He stepped inside Will’s office and made himself comfortable in one of the matching leather seats in front of Will’s desk. “So, I’ll ask you again, what did you think of Zoe?”
“Which one was she?” Will needed to play dumb. When the positioned opened up Will cast the first skeptical doubt when Donovan suggest Zoe Baldwin. Given Donovan’s track record, Will didn’t want to risk any form of lawsuit. Given the chemistry Will felt when he spotted Zoe at the elevator, Will did not want to admit his attraction to a potential employee.
Gossip spread like wildfires in office settings. Kelly Towers, and all the businesses housed on the floors, was not immune to the tabloids. Home to the local news station, celebrity appearances, and eager folks trying to catch a break in the media world, this building was often the target of tabloid spies. Will prided himself on his discretion. He took dating a person seriously. In a building filled with scantily clad women and men representing everything Ravens Cosmetics had to offer, spotting the demure woman at the elevator had been the highlight of his life for the last few weeks. Will’s days of going through women were over. He was tired of the women impressed and after his money. Will never realized how much he appreciated the classic beauty of a woman until he’d seen her. She’d worn a simple skirt, a somewhat loud red blouse and pearls at her ears as well as around her slender neck. When was the last time a woman wore pearls around her neck as a part of an outfit—not several strands of pearls as an outfit?
Will summed up Zoe Baldwin in one word: beautiful. There had been an instant connection between them when he walked into the hallway downstairs. It had been the first time he’d actually passed out one of the business cards he was given when he took on his role of CEO. If his brothers and sisters knew Will had almost asked her out today, they’d never leave him alone about it. His cousins would never trust his decisions if he acted like Donovan or Marcus.
“Y’all talking about the interviews today?” Marcus asked, poking his head in the door.
“Yes,” Donovan said, leaning back in his chair to look at their oldest brother. “And Will is trying to act like he doesn’t know which one Zoe was.”
Marcus chuckled and entered the room. He took the seat next to Donovan and propped his elbows on Will’s desk. “The one you drooled so much over, we needed to get the cleaning crew to mop up the saliva? The one who caused the hallway to become so sexually charged when she and Will laid eyes on each other?”
It was going to take some time for Will to get used to being around his family like this. Luckily his sisters, Dana and Eva, were out of town at a convention. They would already have started planning his wedding. Will needed to get used to the idea of carrying on his grandparents’ corporate legacy before he thought about adding to it.
“You ought to go into creative writing,” Will said with a dry yawn.
“I’ve got my hands full being president.” Marcus glanced down at his fingers.
As Marcus inspected his cuticles, Donovan and Will dramatically bowed down at the president, a teasing move they did every time Marcus felt the need to inform them of his title. No one wanted to be the president. The president was the face of the company with not as much power as people believed. But if anyone needed to be the face, it was Marcus. He was what Will considered pretty, with soft brown hair and deeply tanned skin, helped out a bit by the Miami sun.
Thanks to a car accident a few years ago, Donovan never wanted to be in the public eye. He wanted to hide the long scar down his cheek from the cameras. No matter the differences Will saw between himself and his brothers, everywhere they went, people always knew they were siblings.
“You guys are jerks, you know that?” asked Marcus with a tight smile.
“You guys nominated me, a guy with no experience in the business other than my last name, to be the CEO while I was recuperating,” Will said dryly. “So sue me if I don’t feel sorry for you.”
“By ‘recuperating…’” Donovan raised his hands for air quotes “…you mean you were at your sci-fi convention?”
Will pressed his hands on top of the portfolios. “I believe you were right there next to me in a Flash mask.”
Marcus’s head snapped toward Donovan. “You said you were in New York.”
“I was, right after Comic-Con.”
Before his brothers went off on a tangent, Will cleared his throat. “Let’s talk about the interviews today. I’d like to be on a united front before we meet back with the cousins.”
His grandparents carried on a long family tradition of creating products for the community. They’d raised their six kids in a modest four-bedroom home in Overtown, a predominately African American neighborhood in Miami. His great-great-grandmother had sold hair-care products to the women whose husbands worked on the railroads. Skin-care and hair-care products had helped mold the Ravens into a millionaire family back in the day. Will wanted to make sure Ravens Cosmetics made it to one hundred years in business.
Will concentrated on his brothers in front of him. “Who did y’all like?”
“Zoe,” Donovan and Marcus chorused.
Will liked Zoe, but he wasn’t sure it was for the same reasons as his brothers. It wasn’t like Will to arrive at RC late, as he had that morning. His cousins Katie and Dixon had conveniently forgotten to remind him of the time change for the interviews. And to make matters worse, he’d worked out with Dixon this morning. No wonder Dixon had hopped off the treadmill a few miles sooner than normal. Will should have known better. These cousins were ready to dissolve Ravens Cosmetics. He frowned. Will refused to let that happen on his watch.
“I’m not sure she’s what I had in mind for such a position.”
“And what did you have in mind?”
Flipping open the portfolio with Zoe’s face on it, Will thumbed through the photographs of all the women and men she’d worked on. “This work is too busy for me. We’re here to support the everyday woman, and she paints a face like they’re eighties rock stars.”
“Paints a face?” Marcus snickered as if he’d said something erroneous. “What’s wrong with that?”
“I want to go in a different direction. I want something more classic.” Will sat back in his seat and poised his fingers like a steeple. “Like a 1940s look.”
“You want to start a new retro look?” asked Donovan.
“See, that’s what is wrong with you two.” Will shrugged his shoulders and continued without waiting for an answer. “What’s wrong with it? Everyone else is looking for these loud colors and makeup so heavy the girls resemble raccoons. I’m trying to save the company with something new this generation hasn’t experienced.”
“And you think you can bring classic back? Women evolved from that style as well. Zoe is hot right now.
Will shrugged again. Yes, Zoe was hot now and if she worked here, she’d also be un-dateable. “Hey, you guys put me in this position. I can take it, but you are going to have to trust me on this. Tell me the truth, do you really want to bring your lady to Sunday dinner looking like this?” Will held up one of the jobs Zoe had done and shook his head. At the elevator she’d given off a classic vibe, but her body of work on paper did not interest him. “No, I want to take things in a new direction. Trust me.”
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Excerpted from The Beauty and the CEO by Carolyn Hector Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Hector. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Kimani. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.