His Secret Daughter -- excerpt

Chapter One

Subway doors whooshed open, an underground dragon expelling a roar and a blast of smoke.  Pointedly ignoring the smell and the surging crowd of strangers, Alyssa Stark climbed the cement stairs onto the street.  She claimed a tiny square of pavement to pause a moment, her breath catching in her throat as frenzied pedestrians swarmed around her.    

Her first day in New York City.  All her hard work and sacrifices had paid off.  She had arrived.

Alyssa braced herself against the horde of busy people, determined to blend in.  Nonchalant, going about their business without a thought. On the other hand, how many of her fellow New Yorkers had such exhilaration racing through their veins?  They had no idea that she was standing here, struggling to calm her racing heart, thrilled to be standing right here in this very spot.  She held back a grin.

A warm breeze blew her hair as she made her way to the corner and waited for the light to change.  Honking horns, both distant and near-by, became the playlist of her morning.  She studied the office building across the street where she would make her mark – where she’d prove to everyone just what she was capable of.  A modern steel-and-glass masterpiece, McDunn and Early’s impressive midtown Manhattan offices rose far above its neighboring Madison Avenue high-rises.  How many junior advertising execs plotted their rise up the ladder of hard work and accomplishment while gazing down at this very street corner?

The light turned green and Alyssa stepped off the curb, swept along with the crowd of walkers, while vehicles around them honked and inched threateningly forward.  Reaching the opposite sidewalk, she broke free and strode to the front door.

“May I help you?”  A stern-faced security guard in a blue uniform stood behind a counter to her right.

“Yes, please.  I’m Alyssa Stark.  It’s my first day of work at McDunn and Early.”

The guard peered at her over bifocals perched at the end of his nose.  The gruff look morphed into a smile.  “Congratulations, young lady.”  He nodded approvingly before lifting the phone to summon an escort for her.

A few minutes later, a man in a fitted suit emerged from the elevator and walked toward her, a tentative smile toying at his lips.  His haircut was precision itself, and the darkness in his salt and pepper hair still won the battle of dominance.  “Alyssa Stark?”

Alyssa stepped forward and took his outstretched hand.  “Yes.”

“I’m Tony White.  I’m an Account Executive like you.  I’ve been assigned to be your mentor.  You know, introduce you around, show you the ropes, shield you from imminent disaster.”

Alyssa grinned.  She liked him right away.  “Imminent disaster like what?”

“Too numerous to cover.  But I’ll venture a few:  my first order of business is to protect you from old Ambrose Early.  He’s two generations removed from the contemporary Earlys, but he insists on an office, an expense account and a client or two.”

“How old is he?”

“Eighty five, but he doesn’t look a day under a hundred.  In his heyday he lived hard – drinking, smoking, late nights.  He’s on a million medications and occasionally an oxygen tank, but he still thinks he’s a catch worthy of the most beautiful young women.”

“Hmmm.”

“Just a warning.  Old Ambrose will hit on you.  Don't take it personally.  Just think of a gracious way to turn him down.”  Tony eyed her sideways.  “Unless you’re into octogenarians with shortened lifespans.”

“Depends on how cute he is.”

Tony raised his eyebrows at her.

“Kidding!  Just kidding.”  She laughed and peered around the modern lobby, her excitement difficult to contain.  “Well, I’m happy to be here.”

Tony chuckled with a shake of his head.  “I’ll check with you at the end of the day and see if you want to come back tomorrow.”

They entered the elevator and Tony pushed 27.  The highest floor she’d ever worked on was 14.  That was in Chicago, her last job.  She was working her way to the top, literally.

“So, did you move here alone?”  Tony asked as they settled in for the ascent.

“No.  I have a daughter, Caroline.  She’s eight.  We’ve gotten pretty good at re-locating.  We’ve done it several times now.”

“Divorced, I assume?  Me, too.  One son in college, a daughter in her last year of high school.  They mainly live with their mother in Connecticut, and I see them on holidays and a month in the summer.”

It seemed like a lot of details to share with a stranger, but Alyssa knew that the best of professional mentorships began with getting to know each other on a personal level.  In college, she’d often found men easier to form friendships with than women, as long as she set the right boundaries up front.  In fact, her new mentor reminded her of several of her university buddies.  She would rely on Tony to help her maneuver through the challenges at McDunn and Early, but if she was lucky, he could also be her first friend in New York.

Despite his open sharing, Alyssa would have to get to know and trust him more before she opened up about her own past.  Her driven childhood, the abysmal mistake she made in college that led to a mismatched marriage, her divorce and her determined drive to make up for lost time in her career.  And Caroline.  Just like everything else in her life, if she wanted something, she’d achieve it with hard work, determination and single-minded devotion to the cause.  Caroline was her daughter, no one else’s.  And she was doing a good job raising her, too.  Caroline was intelligent, loving, caring and friendly.  The two of them were a team.

“Here we are.”  They stepped off the elevator.  A large aluminum sign hung behind a receptionist’s desk, announcing the name of her new employer in black metallic letters.  Tony waved at a pretty young woman talking on the phone behind the desk and used his badge to key through a door to the right. 

They began down a long hallway.  Each tiny office featured a glass wall facing the interior walkway, giving them as they walked full view of whatever was going on inside.  Each room uniformly held a desk, chair, bookcase and an expansive window overlooking Madison Avenue.  The spectacular view was by far the centerpiece of an otherwise tight, cramped office space.

Two or three offices before the end of the floor, Tony steered her into her own.  She stepped in and drew a deep breath.  She turned around slowly, absorbing its ambience. 

She would make magic happen here. She would become one of the most successful Account Executives in McDunn and Early advertising history. 

“Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Tony watched her with a smirk.

“Illinois, hot shot.  Chicago is a long way from Kansas.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve hit the big time now.”

“I know.”  She stepped behind her desk and lowered herself into her chair.  She spun around to look behind her at the magnificent view.  Across the street on the twenty seventh floor, another youngish woman executive in a high rise office building went about her day.  Alyssa breathed deep and sighed.  “I love it here, Tony.”

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