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Hearts Landing

A Holiday With Love Romance 

   Only the small town of Hearts Landing stands between Keziah Steelman reaching the upper echelons of Galaxy Corporation. All she has to do is convince the town to approve construction of a mega casino. Since Hearts Landing has lost its major employer, it should be an easy sell.

Unstoppable force meets immovable object in the person of Ric Hudson, Christian leader of the opposition. Armed with handmade posters and mimeographed fliers, Ric seems powerless to combat Galaxy.
   But so did David against Goliath. Although Keziah grew up in a Christian home, she trusts in herself, not God. Her plan: go to Hearts Landing, infiltrate the opposition and destroy it from within.
   Keziah left the Lord in her past. Secrets from Ric's past threaten to destroy his future. Can the hearts of this unlikely couple land in a love only God can give?



   Every time Keziah walked through the doors of Galaxy Casino’s corporate offices, she could almost taste the money. The lobby recreated the interior of the Sistine Chapel, right down to the fresco paintings on its twelve thousand square foot vaulted ceiling, with one major difference. Where Michelangelo honored God, Galaxy honored money.

   Instead of a literal reproduction of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Nathanial Radner III, president and CEO of Galaxy, expelled his two lowest performers.

   Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper became Nate seated with his top twelve revenue producers for the year. Known collectively as the wall of shame and the wall of fame, employees vied all year to avoid the former and earn their seat at the latter’s most exclusive of tables.

   In two weeks, at the company’s New Year’s Eve party, Nate would unveil the wall’s newest members. From her first day at Galaxy, Keziah dreamed of being immortalized as one of Nate’s disciples. After ten years, it looked like her dream might finally come true. That she’d become the first African-American and one of only a handful of women who’d made the wall was a bonus.

   Keziah; Jake, Keziah’s assistant; and Nate were in Nate’s office overlooking the Las Vegas strip. They sat around the inlaid-wood conference table for their weekly meeting on Hearts Landing, Galaxy’s newest casino project. Pulling this off would earn Keziah her rightful place on the wall.

   She’d just finished the financial projections—which looked better every time she ran them—and was gathering her things to leave when Nate stopped her. “Tell me you have this SOT under control,” he said.

   To have something under control you had to know what it was. Business had all kinds of acronyms: ROI, EBIT, EOD. She didn’t have a clue what SOT was.

   Twisting her engagement ring, she hoped the action would somehow switch on her brain. This was just like her recurring nightmare in business school where she’d show up to take a test and not only didn’t know any of the answers, she couldn’t even read the questions. There would be no waking up from this nightmare. This was happening in real time.

   Jake’s smirk showed he knew what SOT was. That it wasn’t some arcane acronym she’d forgotten from B-school. It was some important aspect of Hearts Landing. Something Nate would expect her to be totally on top of.

   As her eyes and ears in Heart’s Landing, Jake had strict instructions to immediately let her know if anything, no matter how small, cropped up that might jeopardize the project. Only minutes before this meeting, he’d assured her everything was running smoothly.

   “I’ve already briefed Nate on the highlights of Save Our Town,” Jake said. “The petition drive started last week. Website launched two days ago. Yesterday the mayor put them on the agenda for our town meeting.”

   SOT: Save Our Town. This was bad. In two days, they’d meet with the town to answer any lingering questions before the all important vote to decide if Galaxy could build its casino in Hearts Landing. Unless a majority of the town’s residents agreed, the casino would be scrapped and so would Keziah. She’d not only lose her quarter of a million dollar bonus and stock options—money she needed to launch her own company—Nate would expel her from Galaxy immortalizing her failure on the wall of shame.

   “When’s the vote?” Nate asked.

   “Next week, on Christmas Eve,” Keziah said.

   Nate groaned. “From what Jake’s said, this whole project’s in danger of being hijacked by the holy rollers. Scheduling the vote for Christmas Eve gives those religious nuts ammo to use against us. The churches will have all kinds of those watch night services scheduled.”

   “Watch night services are held on New Year’s Eve,” Keziah said, “not Christmas Eve.” Although she hadn’t been to one in her adult life, growing up she’d gone to many a service with her mom and dad to pray in the New Year.

   “Whatever they call it,” Nate said, “there’ll be church services Christmas Eve. You know how those people feel about gaming. We’ll be the topic of every sermon. Their preachers will get them all ginned up about the evils of gambling and then march them lockstep into the vote singing Joshua fit the battle of Jericho or some such nonsense. Why in the world would you hold the vote on Christmas Eve?”

   Three months ago, when they’d scheduled the vote for Christmas Eve, Nate was fine with it. Questioning it now signaled that he’d started to lose confidence in her leadership. Keziah had seen this story play out before. Despite the pound of flesh she’d given Galaxy, if Nate thought for one second she couldn’t pull this off, that she’d become weak, he wouldn’t hesitate giving Jake the lead with all the credit and financial benefits as if she’d never existed.

   It was still her project, for the moment anyway. If she wanted to keep it, she’d have to sound confident, not defensive. Defensiveness equaled weakness. “Hearts Landing is on its last legs as a town. We wanted to promote the casino as Santa giving the town an early Christmas present. All the major news outlets are covering the vote.”

   “All the press in the world won’t help if your scheduling error causes the casino to be voted down.” Nate leaned forward. “So what’s your plan to combat this SOT. Jake promised you’d give me a full briefing. Wouldn’t even give me a hint of what it was. Said he didn’t want to steal any of your thunder. Jake’s a good man. Really has your back.”

   Really had stuck a knife in her back. Jake coveted the Hearts Landing project but had lost it to Keziah. Nate always paired rivals on projects. If the lead couldn’t cut it, the number two assumed leadership. ‘Survival of the fittest,’ he called it. Right now, Keziah wasn’t feeling too fit.

   Nate’s phone beeped. “You need to get started, Keziah. I’ve got back-to-back meetings this morning.”

   “Sorry if I spoke prematurely,” Jake said. “I just assumed Keziah had finished her plan since she left early yesterday to go to the spa.”

   After months of seventy hour weeks, she’d left early to get a much needed massage, something she never would have done if she’d known about this SOT. Not knowing every detail of the project. Spending time at the spa in the midst of a project emergency. Not having a plan to fix said emergency. Jake had exploited any and everything Nate would perceive as weakness. Missing something this big screamed gross incompetence.

   “How are you fixing this, Keziah?” Nate asked. “Jake said you had a plan. Let’s hear it.”

   Staring, Nate waited for an answer she didn’t have to give. After building her reputation on being an idea machine, she couldn’t come up with a single one. Her brain hadn’t just frozen, it’d entered the ice age.

   Nate pushed back from the table. “These next two weeks are critical. If you can’t close this deal, I need to know now.”

   Pulling a folder from his briefcase, Jake laid it on the table. I’ve got some ideas I’d love to run past you. We could—”

   Keziah slammed her hand on the folder preventing Jake from opening it. “I’m leaving for Hearts Landing first thing tomorrow and staying until after the vote,” she blurted out.

   It wasn’t a plan exactly, not yet, but it gave her a what she was going to do, and the why was uh…“This project is too critical to manage long distance and too delicate to expect a junior staffer like Jake to stay on top of.”

   OK, so maybe the dig on Jake wasn’t totally called for, but it made her feel a little better. The longer she talked the more confident she became. And an actual plan started coming together. “I’ll go there as a tourist. Won’t let the townspeople know that I work for Galaxy. They’ll open up more that way. I can advocate for the project and keep tabs on SOT. Plus, I can give you daily real time updates.”

   Nate nodded. “Good. Seize the bull by the horns. Once these movements get started, they’re like a brush fire. If you don’t put them out quickly, before you know it you’ve lost the whole forest.”

   At the moment, the fire she was most worried about was Jake’s. She’d put it out for now. To stop him from starting a new one, she’d keep him on a tight leash. Cordon him off in a corner crunching numbers, proofing press releases, and any other grunt work she could think of until this deal was done. He wouldn’t get a chance to sabotage her again.

   “Take my advice,” Nate said. “Cut off the head of the snake. Destroy the leader. Once the leader falls, the movement falls. Everybody has a secret. Find the leader’s secret and use it.”

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