Author Jennifer Griffith Jennifer Griffith studied French, German, Japanese, and a wee bit of Spanish in her school days. Her grandmother was Norwegian, and Jennifer grew up with lots of Scandinavian traditions floating around, including fabulous cardamom laced cookies called Krumkaker, made on a fancy waffle iron. However, she’d never dream of trying to teach someone any of those languages. And she might botch the cookies. Instead, she writes novels in English, drives her five kids a million places, and laughs with her husband, who came up with the plot for Immersed because he’s just a cool muse like that.
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This was it, the day she’d waited and worked for over the past years—her degree would be firmly in her hand. Lisette Pannebaker, Master of Business Administration. Her smile even made her eyes scrunch.
Dad’s dress shirt would’ve popped buttons, had he been here to see her.
But it wasn’t just the degree. Chances were that tonight she’d have something else in hand. Or, rather, on her hand. She’d seen the little navy velvet box on Justin’s coffee table—he’d left it in plain sight when she came by to drop off dinner for him last night—and she’d nearly fainted from heart palpitations last week when he’d dragged her past windows sparkling with diamonds and asked whether she thought round cut or brilliant cut had more fire.
Brilliant cut, of course.
Ah, Justin Fox. She sighed for his blond crew cut, his square jaw. Mrs. Justin Fox. It fit. Lisette Pannebaker, student, no more. Now she’d be Mrs. Justin Fox, Master of Business Administration.
Aunt Corky interjected with a selling point. “Amanda, I think Lisette might have a good thing going with this plan of hers. Only the wealthiest business people will be able to afford to hire her as a linguist. It’s going to be a good pool to draw from.” She aimed her fork’s tines for emphasis.
Geez. Great. Now her mom would think Lisette was only starting this business to catch a rich husband. And she’d expect Lisette to be actively looking among the clients—a complete no-no on Lisette’s ethical standards. She’d even written it into the boilerplate contract she expected to have every potential client sign. Aunt Corky meant well, of course. Lisette could forgive easily. At least what Corky said worked—there was a visible relenting in her mom’s countenance.
Lisette pounced on that. “Look, Mom. I have a proposal. Give me three years at this. That’s a reasonable amount of time for a startup company to either make it or break. If I haven’t both paid you back and paid off my student loans in that amount of time—in full, to the penny—I’ll come take the Mandarin job at Pannebaker.”
Mom took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and relented. “Fine. But three years. Every penny. It’s a deal.” She put an arm around Lisette’s shoulder. “I know you can do it. Of course, I’d really rather see you fail.”
“Amanda!” Aunt Corky scolded.
“No, not that. I just want to see her settled and having a family by then. It’s not business success that I count as a real measure.”
Lisette had just been forcibly booted from a relationship not an hour ago. Now was not the time to debate the merits of marital bliss.
“Three years. You’ll only be twenty-seven by then. There will still be a chance of happiness.” Mom sighed, but Aunt Corky squeezed Lisette’s hand and gave a happy little jump and a squeal.
“Plain and simple: you’re too pretty for this job.”
Lisette rolled her eyes and picked up her brush again, going at the high spots on the wall with vigor. “You’ve been talking to my mom again. Did she finally rub off on you?” Great. Now no one believed in her. Not even Aunt Corky. Just a pretty face.
“No, not in that way. What I’m saying is that your business has merit. It can totally work. But just not with you, the way you are.”
Aunt Corky probably didn’t mean to make Lisette want to cry, but the tears welled in her eyes all the same. This dream had taken every waking hour of the last eighteen months. She’d poured her heart and soul into making it grow, not to mention all the money she’d buried in it—advertising, the office, everything. And her time. Day and night. How entrepreneurs lived past age forty mystified her. She barely had time to keep an eye on her elderly next door neighbors. And when a girl was too busy to serve other people, she was too busy.
Aunt Corky reached over and grabbed Lisette’s hand. “What I’m saying is you need a makeover.”
Lisette raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t raise that eyebrow at me, Z. I’m serious about this.” Aunt Corky folded her arms across her chest. “Not a makeover in the traditional sense. More like a make-under. You know, to make you look less…gorgeous.”
Here it went again, with the appearance factor. Didn’t all the studies say that people who were good-looking had a betterchance at success than those who were below average?
“You’re not buying it, I can tell. But think with me. Dark circles under the eyes. A greasy wig. Lines at the mouth. And right about here,” she pointed at her nostril, “a big wart.”
“Okay, maybe not a wart. That might be over the top. But something that will keep all the pawing maniacs at a distance.” Aunt Corky shrugged and leaned against a dry wall like she’d made her case and the prosecution rested. “Think about it, Z. I mean, you want Immerse to succeed, right? All the years of language skills and business acumen you’ve amassed, they’re going to waste.”
Lisette sighed. Even though she wouldn’t admit it aloud to Aunt Corky, unless something changed at Immerse, things could go south pretty fast. However, she wasn’t convinced it was reason enough to subjugate her dignity and go into daily disguise just to ward off pretenders.
Aunt Corky resumed painting. “Just think about it. Don’t decide now. But if you want to do it, I know somebody. Samantha. A genius with bad makeup. She could absolutely transform you. No one would even recognize you.”
This was crossing over from ridiculous into the absurd.
Erik Gunnarson was unbelievable. Her mouth went dry when she saw him. Lisette hadn’t seen anything this good in months. Years. Maybe ever. At least not in person. Sure, in movies, when men were all filter-lit and filmed from just the right angle, they might have looked this good, but not in person.
Suddenly the room was far too hot for this stupid fuzzy pumpkin sweater with the shoulder pads. And this wig? She felt like a blooming fool in it.
“Hello. I’m Lisette Pannebaker.” She extended her hand, but immediately saw it tremble. His olive skin. Those dark brown waves in his thick hair. She could feel her voice quavering. Tiny beads of perspiration formed on her upper lip, and she touched the side of her eye, then her neck.
He looked up at her, looked puzzled a moment, and then gave her a crooked smile before standing to shake her hand. When he touched it, the trembling went into high gear, like she’d received an electric shock. Did he feel it too?
“Ah, you are speak the English now. I see.” His voice was like…butter. He cleared his throat and said, “I am please to meet you. My name is Erik Gunnarson.”
The accent came heavy, and the lilt was definitely Scandinavian. She’d lived in Norway, traveled all the Scandinavian countries. Was he Danish? He looked Danish. Lots of Danes she’d met had darker hair. Like Erik’s.
With effort she remembered to speak to him. “Where do you come from, Mr. Gunnarson?”
He squinted and shook his head, a sign she’d seen a thousand times before in these meetings, so she asked it more slowly.
“I come from Reykjavik. No.” He puzzled a moment and then continued. “A village…near…Reykjavik.”
Oh, Iceland. She wanted to ask him all about his life there, his upbringing, his family, his plans for a family of his own, and could she please be the mother of his children?
Get a hold of yourself, Lisette. She nearly slapped herself. This had to be professional. What a crying shame, too. He had such a nice crooked grin. And those upper arms. While most clients wore stinky sport coats over golf shirts or boring business suits and ties, Erik Gunnarson wore a plain grey Henley shirt—and looked like he’d just been at Henley itself, pulling the oars in the Thames. Thosetriceps. Who did he think he was? Thor?
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