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“I am so dead.”
That’s what Miranda Johansson, the sole female stock research analyst at Maxwell Moore & Company, LLC, whispered one Tuesday morning—a Tuesday that would surely soon be known as Black Tuesday in financial circles.
“I am so, so, dead,” Miranda moaned.
The market had just crashed.
Well, not the whole market, exactly—just the entire telecom sector, which also just so happened to be the area of the market Miranda Johansson’s stock research focused on. And to be perfectly accurate, the telecom sector hadn’t just crashed. The telecom sector had actually sunk so low it was resting somewhere in the ninth circle of Hell, right next to Dante, Lucifer, and Julius Caesar.
Miranda watched the share prices of the thirty-two telecom stocks she covered plummet farther and farther down on the black-and-green screen of her trading terminal. When all the shares in her research universe sank to below ten percent of their opening price, she put her head down on her keyboard. She thought she might cry.
In fact, she did cry. A little. Not out loud. Not enough to need a nose-blow or a hanky. But enough so that two big fat salty tears squeezed their way past her scrunched-up eyelids. And those two big, fat, salty tears were more than enough to send her $15.98 eyeliner and $32.00 Super-Luscious-Curl mascara running right down both her cheeks in two greasy black rivers. But she was too wrapped up in the eighty-seven million or so dollars she’d just lost for her clients to know that.
“I am so fucking dead.” This time she didn’t whisper or moan. This time, she screamed. Screamed, loud enough to bring Annabelle--her emotionally astute, middle-aged personal assistant--trotting right into her office.
“Miranda? Miranda, hon, are you okay?”
“Mrrrghhhh,” Miranda told her keyboard. The ‘ESC’ button jammed itself into her left eyelid.
“Miranda? Are you going to issue a special First-Call bulletin on the—ahhhm—price adjustments?”
Price adjustments. Miranda silently thanked God that Annabelle was too diplomatic to call it what it really was—a career-destroying clusterfuck of a total, massive, stock implosion.
Miranda jerked upright, the pattern of her keyboard decorating the entire left side of her face. “Yeah, Annabelle. I definitely think a First Call bulletin would be, um, appropriate.” Miranda had to bite her lower lip to keep from bursting into tears again. She knew that the day’s portfolio losses of any investor who’d been following her stock advice would exceed 90 percent. With that kind of single-day hammering, Miranda figured this First-Call bulletin could very well be the last one she’d ever write, to say nothing of the hate mail and obscene phone calls she was sure to start receiving from Maxwell Moore and Company’s clients any minute.
She made a mental note to start working on her resume.
Annabelle pulled a steno notebook and pen from somewhere in her ample cleavage. “Shall I start taking down that First Call bulletin now, hon?”
Miranda sighed. The still-plummeting numbers on her trading computer screen were making her dizzy. She needed a coffee break, and fast.
Well, more like a four-martini break. But drinking during market hours was strictly against Maxwell Moore & Company policy. With guzzling gallons of alcohol out of the question, Miranda decided she’d need at least three double-espressos just to get through the rest of what was sure to be a horrendous day.
“I’ll be back in five minutes, Annabelle. I’m going downstairs to the coffee shop for a little while. Hold my calls.”
“Sure thing, Miranda. But wait just a sec ….”
Miranda ignored her. She got up from her desk and headed out of her office and straight down the hall toward the elevators.
“Three double-espressos, please,” Miranda barked at the purple-dreadlocked college student behind the counter of her building’s lobby coffee shop. “With soy milk and a dash of hazelnut syrup. And can you put all three double-espressos in the same big cup, please? Just leave off the lid. I’ll drink it here.”
The purple-dreadlocked clerk didn’t acknowledge Miranda’s order. He just stared at her.
Miranda rolled her eyes. She didn’t have time for this. “Pardon me, but are you hard of hearing?”
“No,” the glassy-eyed, purple-haired clerk said after a long, awkward moment. “Sorry. I was just kind of freaked out by your--face, that’s all.”
“My face? Are you implying there’s something wrong with my face?” Miranda’s temper—short in even the best of circumstances—let loose in full post-market-crash fury. “Because if you are honestly going to stand there making comments about my face when your hair looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, then you have really got a lot of nerve, buddy.”
Purple Dread Head’s mouth popped open for a moment, then clapped shut with a click. Silently he turned his back on Miranda and began frothing some milk for her espresso order.
“That’s more like it,” she said under her breath. “Lazy freaking hippie.”
Tossing petty insults at low-paid service workers wasn’t exactly Miranda’s style----in fact, she’d put herself through business school slinging lattes at this coffee chain’s main competition----but losing eighty-seven million dollars’ worth of her clients’ money in one day wasn’t exactly her style, either. With that kind of bad news weighing her down, Miranda figured she was entitled to blow her stack a little bit. She stepped down to the end of the counter to await her order, seething, and grinding her teeth in time to the espresso machine.
As she stood there, gathering up about nineteen packets of sugar for what would probably be the most intense shot of caffeine in her life, Miranda felt a sharp tap on her shoulder.
“I really think you owe the Rastafarian behind the counter an apology, miss.”
Miranda whirled around. A tall man stood just to her left, carrying an extra-large mug of hot chocolate complete with about four inches worth of whipped cream on top. A tall, slim, trim, well-dressed, and very attractive man. Dark hair in an immaculate, well-combed cut. Ice-blue eyes. Jawline so angular and sharp it was probably capable of shredding lettuce. Broad shoulders, square chest, dimpled chin. A stop-your-heart-right-between-beats kind of tall, attractive man. In other words ….
Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
A drop-dead-gorgeous man who also looked about two seconds shy of tossing his hot chocolate right into Miranda’s face.