Page 72 of Coercion

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Another three seconds for good measure.

I lean forward and tap the contract with my fingertips so there can be no mistaking what I’m talking about.“Today.”

Jeffrey blusters.It’s a noise out of a movie, or a sitcom.A weird cough in his throat that doesn’t turn into anything normal on the way out.“Well, I don’t know about that.There are discussions—the board—”

I pull the portfolio back toward me.“Unless you want me to take this deal to your top competitor.”

He can’t help himself.Jeffrey reaches out and catches the edge of the portfolio, digging his nails in.“We’ll sign.”

I keep my hand on the paper for a few beats longer, holding it there until he meets my eyes with begrudging respect.My favorite kind.

“Christa, could you pass Mr.Miles a pen?”

“My pleasure, Will.”She takes a heavy, fancy-ass pen from the table in front of her and offers it to Jeffrey.I don’t take my hand off the contract until he does.

Without another second of hesitation, he scrawls his signature on the line.

I take the portfolio, flip it around, and sign my name in the final spot.Flipping it closed is a nice, definitive touch.I hand it off to Christa and stand, offering Jeffrey my hand.He rushes to shake.

“Congratulations.On behalf of everyone at Hughes Industries, I’m pleased to welcome you to our new partnership.Your contacts will reach out this afternoon so you can hit the ground running.”

More handshakes get exchanged, all of us thanking each other like it was a team effort to save each other’s asses instead of me calling their ridiculous bluff.Let them feel that way.Word will get around.

Christa opens the door for Jeffrey and his assistant.They’re almost out the door when the assistant murmurs, “If a guy likethatis all in…”

Jeffrey cuts him off with a sharplater.

We wait until the receptionist’s voice floats back to us from her desk, and both of us let out a long breath.

“Nice one, Leblanc.”Christa raises her hand, and I give her a high five.Why the hell not?There’s nobody else here to see.“Miles was serious about walking away.”

“No, he wasn’t.That was an act.”

“Was it?”

“Of course it was.Hemight not have known that he was full of shit, but I did.And even if I hadn’t, he was going to sign.Because—”

“The numbers don’t lie.”She laughs, her eyes lighting up.

“The numbersdon’tfucking lie, and neither do contracts.”

“Would you have signed that deal?”

I give her a horrified face.“Hell, no.There were at least fifteen changes I’d have demanded and five more I’d have pushed for even if I didn’t get them.”

Christa shakes her head.“It’s a good thing you’re not the one negotiating the terms anymore.I’m sure you cost several people decades off their lives with all your nitpicky changes.”

“Everybody thinks it’s nitpicking until they have a fat bank account because of me.Wait.Youhave a fat bank account because of me.Are you sure you want to give me shit about it?”

“Why do you think I agreed to sit in on all these meetings?I miss spending half my day making you scowl at me.”

I lean against the table, letting the rest of my adrenaline sparkle itself back to baseline.“Your new job’s good, though.Right?”

“You have no ideahowgood it is.”

I narrow my eyes at her.“Are you this happy because of the job, or did you meet somebody?”