‘It...umm...wasn’t a personal call. At least not from my end...anyway.’ Elise stopped, smoothed her damp palms over her skirt, and tried to form coherent words. ‘My grandmother is Japanese. She lives in Hawaii now but she still owns several businesses in Kyoto. I thought she might have insights as to what’s stalling your merger.’
Alejandro returned her gaze, narrow-eyed, then took the seat opposite her. Wordlessly, he waited, his powerful arms braced on his knees.
Elise cleared her throat. ‘Kenzo Ishikawa, Jason and Nathan’s grandfather, started the company.’
‘I’m aware of that.’
Elise barely managed to keep her lips from pursing. ‘He’s old school. Traditional.’
‘I know what old school means. Explain yourself better.’
‘Kenzo has taken a back seat, but he’s still on the board.’ At his darker glare, she hurried on. ‘The company’s been based in Kyoto since it was created. Were you planning on moving any of their factories from Kyoto?’
Alejandro nodded. ‘Seventy per cent of them, yes. It’ll save millions of dollars in revenue and deliver a faster service if we relocate the factories and warehouses to Europe and the US.’
‘That probably doesn’t matter to him. Since this is a merger and not a buyout, they’ll still be associated with it. Kenzo won’t want to see everything he’s worked for moved to another continent.’
‘So your opinion is that this deal is stalling because of nostalgia?’
‘Sentimentality can be a strong motivator.’
‘I don’t have time for sentimentality. Or protracted delays. Sitting back while they grapple with their touchy-feely emotions isn’t cost-effective for me.’
‘Perhaps it hadn’t been a card they felt they could play and win,’ she ventured. ‘But now they do?’
His jaw clenched. One fist wrapped around the other, then he surged to his feet.
‘You know, don’t you?’ she queried.
‘Why the Ishikawas have suddenly gone dewy-eyed? Sí, I do,’ he breathed.
Elise was certain fire would shoot from his nostrils, so devastating was the rage simmering from him.
But he simply returned to his desk. Slightly dazed, she heard him order Margo to summon his strategy team. Once the instructions were snapped out, he jammed his hands into his pockets and turned to the window. Although his gaze remained fixed on the view of Lake Michigan, Elise sensed his thoughts were very much turned inward.
To the source of the problem she’d just helped him uncover.
She sat, hands in her lap, as minutes crawled by. Finally, irritation snapping at her fraught nerves, she stood an
d shrugged on her jacket. Buttoning it, she approached him.
‘Pardon my interruption of your non-Zen rumination, but does the light bulb I just handed you mean that I’m hired?’
His shoulders stiffened. Slowly he turned and leaned against the window, his ankles crossed. Elise forced her gaze to remain on his face, not glance down to the thighs bunched against the taut fabric of his trousers.
‘Sí, I’m inclined to give you the commission.’
She tamped down the absurd fizz of excitement. ‘I hear a busload of buts in there.’
His eyes gleamed a dangerous, hypnotic green. ‘But...we need to establish a few ground rules.’
‘I can live with a few reasonable rules.’
His mouth twisted with a parody of a smile. ‘I assure you, it’ll be in your interest to do so.’
She attempted a smile of her own. ‘I’ll be the judge of that. So shoot.’
‘First, there will be instances when if I say jump, you will ask me how high.’