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Authors: Kathryn Shay

Risky Business

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Risky Business

 

The Ludzecky Sisters

Book 3

 

By

 

KATHRYN SHAY

 

Chapter 1

 

“I think we have what we need for our due diligence, Mr. Holland.” Magdalena smiled graciously at the owner of The Natural Life stores. “I hope you’re as excited as we are about the potential investment in your company by Price and Associates.” Magdalena had joined the private-equity after graduate school
.

The owner held her gaze. “Mostly, it feels like
I’m handing my first born off to someone else to raise.”

She gave him a sympathetic look. “Most of the companies we do business with have that initial reaction. Maybe you could look at it as sending your child off to school, where others can invest their time, energy and money into him.”

Carter Holland nodded. “So, where do we go from here?”

“Price and Associates analyze all the documents
and visit more stores.”

Logan sat forward. “Ms. Ludzecky and I are both operational analysts.”
The Power Team
, they’d been called by the media. “We’ll analyze your strengths and weaknesses to make sure we want to invest, but we don’t get to this phase without being fairly certain we do.”

“And you’ll complete a management assessment, correct?”

“Yes.” This was Logan’s baby. “We’ll evaluate
your staff and see if there’s any overlap or duplication of effort within the stores or in upper management.” There most likely would be layoffs, which Holland had to know.

Once again, Magdalena admired her colleague and friend for being able to handle the personnel task with emotional aplomb. She was glad she didn’t have to do that part of the assessment, though she’d be consulted.

After
answering a few more questions, Logan stood. “We’ll be in touch about our decision. Before that, if we need anything else from you. One promise I can make is that we’ll be fair and save as many jobs as we can.”

“Which is why I want to work with your firm.” He stood and so did Magdalena
.

She offered her hand first. “Thank you for your time. I’m sure we can take that baby of yours to greater
heights than you could alone.”

“I hope so.”

“You won’t be sorry, Mr. Holland,” Logan told him.

Together, they left the office and soon stood on the streets of New York’s Financial District. Magdalena didn’t live too far from here. Early January sported one of its sunny winter days, so she and Logan stopped to talk. “He’s nervous,” she said, glancing back at the building.

“All owners
are when they want to grow their business and go with private-equity investment. But Price wouldn’t be pursuing the company if we didn’t think it was good for all of us.”

She squeezed his arm. “Of course we wouldn’t. And I know you’re not crazy about the layoffs.”

Pointedly, he took a bead on her. “Then why don’t you do this part?”

“Because you got your undergrad in human resources.
Mine’s in finance.” Checking her watch, she saw it was 1:00 p.m. “Want to get something to eat with me and Ana?”

“No thanks. I have a lunch date.”

Having worked with him for seven years, Magdalena rolled her eyes. “I know what
that
means. Shall I bring a sandwich back to the office for you?”

“I’ll have you know, Teresa and I are
eating
this time. She has to be at the theater early
to go over some dances with the choreographer.” Logan dated the current star of
All of Me
, the hottest ticket on Broadway. Magdalena liked the woman, though from what he said about her, she could be mercurial in her moods. Logan called it artistic temperament.

“You’re good at finding time for
other
business,” she teased.

“Stop.” Though he liked a variety of women in his life, Logan was
good-hearted and never duped any of them into thinking the relationship would last forever. He also didn’t give that heart of his to anyone. Often, Magdalena wondered why.

They both crossed to the curb. “Why’s Ana in town?”

Her older sister was the Dean of Admissions at Mount Mary’s in Brooklyn and was often in the city for her job. She still lived in the other borough, in the same house
she once shared with Jared the Jerk.

“A recruiting fair.”

“How is she, Mags? I know you worry about her.”

“Because she’s bitter and still very sad, even after more than two years. Why wouldn’t I worry?”

“It’s never what it appears on the surface, why people break up.”

Because she loved Logan in many ways, she listened to him. “You’re right. Have a good lunch.”

He hailed
a cab and she took out her phone. As she watched him get into the taxi, which always seemed to come right away for him, she could see why women flocked to him. Six three, all muscles with sky blue eyes, he was a stunner. For the hundredth time, she was grateful she was immune to his charms. She much rather preferred to have him in her life as a friend she could count on.

And she could. In
every way.

oOo

Logan climbed into the cab and waved good-bye to Magdalena. He was always shocked that cars didn’t crash into each other when she was on the street. She had to be one of the most beautiful women he’d ever known. That luscious hair in curls down to her waist. Those tawny eyes. She was the picture of loveliness.

Who was not for him. There’d be too much competition
for her attention. And he’d never want to lose her as a friend. Then there was the fact that they were colleagues. It would be difficult to have romantic feelings for her. Turning his thoughts to Teresa Allen, he smiled. Now, she was perfect for him, at this point in his life anyway
.

He saw her waiting outside the theater. She waved to motion the cab over. When he exited, he embraced her.
She went willingly, fully and gave him a big kiss on the mouth. “Hello.”

“Hi, babe.” They walked to the restaurant two doors down from the theater. Once inside, they sat and she scanned the menu.

“Hungry?” he asked.

“Always. Order some red meat so I can have a slice.”

Because she was a dancer and singer in addition to an actor, she was scrupulous about her diet. “Already had some
this week?”

“Once, my limit. But I’ll cheat with a tiny slice.”

They talked about the play and the changes they were making in the choreography.
All of Me
had been a big hit, but the choreographer was noted for his perfection. “Will you come to see it again?”

“Of course.”

She looked up from under heavy-lidded deep brown eyes. “Don’t bring Magdalena this time.”

Reaching across
the table, he grasped Teresa’s hand and hid his annoyance. “There’s nothing between us but friendship.”

“She adores you. And she’s so gorgeous…”

“Teresa, we’re closer than most people who work together because I was there for her when her brothers-in-law died in a horrific accident.”

“You stayed by her side for a week.”

“Pretty much.”

For as long as he lived, he’d never forget
the grinding grief in the Ludzecky home during those dark days. He was with Magdalena when she received the news and had accompanied her home, where he found he was able to help the desolate family, from grandmother to child. So he’d taken time off from work, along with Magdalena, and spent the week with them. Since then, she’d made it plain she’d walk on hot coals for him
.

“It’s unnatural
to be such close friends with her.”

Logan frowned. “Where’s all this coming from, Teresa? You knew what kind of relationship I had with Magdalena when you and I started dating.”

She frowned. “I don’t know. I’m out of sorts some these days.”

“I’m sorry. Can I help?”

“Nah, just forgive my lapses.” A waiter approached their table. “And order some meat, please.”

“You’re on.”

oOo

Ana was late to lunch, which was nothing unusual. Magdalena took the time to answer emails on her phone while she waited. When she looked up, she saw her second-oldest sister enter the restaurant.

Ana’s eyes, a bit darker than the rest of theirs, lit when she saw Magdalena, and she headed over. “Sorry I’m late. I had one last student before lunch who was genuinely interested
in Mount Mary. I was searching for some financial aid she might qualify for.”

“Did you find it?”

“Uh-huh.” The smile that came was extra bright. And this sister of hers didn’t smile much. Since her divorce a year after the guys died, everyone in the family had trouble reaching her. It was as if she went into herself. Or she was keeping secrets
.

They ordered, then Magdalena asked, “How’s
my niece doing?”

Ana shook her head. “Good. I love her to pieces, but this tween thing is killing me.” Opal was nine. “I wish she could play soccer all year long. She’s so mellow then.”

“She wants to be older. We all did.”

“I try to keep that in mind. She and I compromise pretty well. If I say no to one thing, I promise to let her try the second thing—within reason—and if it doesn’t
work for me, we renegotiate.”

“Even when we were little, you were good at helping all of us kids to get along.”

“That’s a sweet thing to say.” Her eyes turned stormy. “I just wish Jared wouldn’t usurp my authority. Opal”—Donuta Opal to be exact, but
Matka
had insisted they call her first grandchild by the middle name they also shared— “and I were batting around the idea of getting her
ears pierced, and Jared went and surprised her with a trip to the store to do it. Without asking me.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie.”

“He drives me crazy when he does things like that.”

“I know.” Magdalena waited a bit. “How are you getting along these days?”

“Not well. I thought after the first year, it would get easier. But this is the third and we still bite each other’s heads off.”

Magdalena decided to try again. “Ana, why don’t you talk to us about the divorce, instead of making us speculate on it? Nia turned to me when she had issues with Rafe. Paulina has always confided in Nia. We’re all good at helping each other through difficult times.”

That familiar, faraway expression came into her eyes. “You know what happened. He cheated. I kicked him out. End of story.
Let’s talk about the newlyweds.”

Magdalena was sure there was more to the reasons for the divorce, but she decided not to press. “If you insist.” She covered Ana’s hand, where it rested on the table. “I loved the ring Adam got Paulie. It suits her.” The platinum-gold circlet of channel diamonds was exquisite.

Unconsciously, Magdalena guessed, Ana rubbed the naked fourth finger on her left
hand
.

“And they looked great,” Ana said wistfully. “All tanned and rested.”

“Not as great as Nia. Can you believe how she’s…blossomed?”

A frown marred Ana’s face. “I hope Rafe doesn’t hurt her.”

“I’d bet my last dollar that he won’t. He’s not only madly in love with her but he’s a nice guy.”

“Hmm.”

There it was again. The cynicism. She didn’t say it aloud, but her entire
expression read
Nice guys change.

And Magdalena couldn’t have argued with her even if she’d said it aloud. After all, the family knew this much: Jared instigated the divorce by being unfaithful to Ana during a horrific period in her life. Magdalena would never forgive him for that.

oOo

Ana sipped her coffee as she watched her sister leave to go back to work. She loved Magdalena
and all the others deeply, but there were some things she couldn’t share. The only other person who knew the real cause of the divorce was Jared, and he certainly wasn’t boasting about it.

As happened sometimes, thoughts of him brought back not the bad times but the good. Jared, her teacher, taking an interest in her. Jared, the father, getting up at night, rocking Opal until she slept. Jared
making sweet, sweet love to her. It was the last that was the hardest to think about
.

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