Ann Macela--Author
Wolf in Jester's Clothing by Ann Macela
Cover illustration Copyright 2013 by Winterheart Design

Wolf in Jester's Clothing


Wolves in Business Series



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About the Book

Eleanora Whitman: ruthlessly efficient, totally organized, thoroughly businesslike chief of staff. Personal goals: run a division, then her own company. However attractive her new CEO and however crazy, though successful, his management methods may be, she believes she has the fortitude to ignore the first and the abilities to work with and learn from the second.


Lawrence, “Rence,” Stratford: irreverently laid-back, impossibly facetious, thoroughly charming CEO, who has been hiding his true nature—corporate wolf. Business goal: put his own leadership stamp on the conglomerate. He expects no problems there. Personal goal: get to know his chief of staff intimately. That last won’t be an easy takeover and will require finesse and perseverance. Eleanora is all starch and correctness, and her reporting to him complicates their coming together.


On the agenda: A full-blown reorganization of all divisions and a purchase of a company with secrets. On the side: A secret affair with the risk of disastrous gossip.


Can they negotiate to solve their problems and still have each other?

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Chapter One


What was HE doing here in HER Monday morning meeting?

Eleanora Whitman wiped the frown from her face as the “he” in question looked up from his smartphone and gave her a wink. Despite the inexplicable shiver running down her backbone, she ignored Lawrence Stratford to concentrate on the man behind the desk. William Ignatius Norborg, founder, chairman, and CEO of WIN Industries, was her boss. Not “Rence,” the Norborg nephew and uncooperative, facetious, brown-haired-green-eyed, too-handsome-for-his-own-good, Medical Solutions division president slouching in the chair in front. Thank goodness.

She took her usual seat at the side of the desk, smiled at Mr. Norborg, and said, “Good morning.”

“Ah, you’re here.” The chairman, who had been reading The Wall Street Journal, put it down and leaned forward in his chair, behind which the Minneapolis skyline sparkled in the bright summer morning.

Eleanora opened her leather-bound binder to the agenda she had prepared. As Mr. Norborg’s chief of staff, she expected to have a great deal to do this morning, especially since they had not communicated while he was at the Mayo Clinic all last week. During the long-overdue checkup, his doctors and especially Mrs. Norborg had been adamant that he not be disturbed for any reason.

Not that there had been a need in the smoothly running conglomerate. As usual, Eleanora had stood in for him at meetings, handled his written and telephonic correspondence, and provided a strong link between the CEO’s office and the company. Her most pressing task had been “encouraging” the division heads to get their proposed budgets in on time. Her title could appear innocuous to others, but the divisions knew she spoke with all the power of his offices behind her. Her reports were ready—although it had taken three “reminders” to Mr. Stratford to obtain his from the Medical Solutions Division.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Mr. Norborg said. “Eleanora, the results from my checkup are in. We’re going to make some changes around here.”

Changes? An unwelcome lump of cold took residence in her stomach. For the past two months, she’d felt that something was in the wind, but she had not heard a whisper of real information or even any speculation. The silence had been an unusual omen, somehow fraught with foreboding. She shook off that idea. She dealt in concrete facts, not whimsy.

“First off,” Mr. Norborg stated with a glum expression, “My doctors have threatened me with a stroke from high blood pressure, and my wife added even more dire consequences if I don’t address the problem and take three months off—immediately. Margaret has booked us into a ‘health retreat’ where they put you on a diet and run you ragged with exercise. She says it will be ‘good’ for both of us.”

Eleanora agreed with Mrs. Norborg. The chairman was a tall, heavy-set man of 60 who liked to eat and hated to exercise. Although he was overweight, he always appeared hale, hearty, and full of energy. Mentally, he was on top of every aspect of his company. She kept her mouth shut while her mind whirled with ways in which his absence would impact operations.

When the chairman spoke again, an expression ran across his face Eleanora had never seen on him—one of almost boyish eagerness. “During last week, I realized how much the fun has gone out of running the company. I missed small projects of my own to handle, new products to invent, being close to the action. When I return from this exile, I’ll begin a new enterprise to develop start-up companies here in Minnesota. Yesterday, I called the family stockholders and local board members to an informal meeting. I tried to get hold of you, but never could.”

“I was out of town, and my cell phone battery died,” she replied. “I didn’t arrive home until too late to return your calls.”

“I would have liked you there, but I know you’ll do your usual outstanding job with the short notice. I’m stepping down as CEO, effective today. I always knew keeping the company in family hands was a good idea. We can implement our decisions within this week.”

Resigning as CEO? Eleanora kept herself perfectly still. She had never imagined that possibility.

As the shock of the announcement bounced around in her head, she glanced at the man sitting in front of the desk. Lawrence Stratford was smiling. Of course he wasn’t surprised. As a Norborg nephew, stockholder, and president of a division, he had been at that meeting yesterday.

Mr. Norborg drew her attention again. “Eleanora, set up a formal meeting, board members and top corporate officers only, today at 2 p.m. Arrange a conference call with those members who can’t make it in person. I talked with all of them last night, and here is the list of the absentees.” He handed her a piece of paper. “I’ll tender my resignation—Bernice has a draft of it, by the way. Then we’ll vote in the new CEO.”

“Yes, sir, and I’ll have Public Relations draft a press release and be ready to inform the media. What should we give as the reason for your stepping down? That you’re going back to your entrepreneurial roots? Shall we also arrange a meeting with division presidents and vice presidents tomorrow?” She quickly started a list of the necessary actions. “Have you decided on your successor?”

“Yes, I like that phrase about roots. Add that I expect to have more information on my activities after my vacation. Time to put the younger generation in charge, that sort of thing. And yes, we have chosen my successor. Rence Stratford will be our new CEO of WIN Industries.”

Eleanora jerked her head up from her writing to stare at her chairman. What? Lawrence Stratford as CEO? That frivolous jester who didn’t take work seriously? The only division president she found difficult to work with? Her new boss? And the man who would be running the entire conglomerate? She twisted around to face him.

His smile had become a smirking grin, and his dark green eyes were sparkling. He was used to wrapping all women around his little finger. Except for her. She knew her immunity to him had made him try all the harder, and he was thoroughly enjoying her reaction. “Yep, me. Looks like you’re all mine, Whitman. At my beck and call to do my bidding.”

By sheer effort of will and all her practice at self-control, she managed not to react to his gleeful expression or his taunt. Instead, she took a deep, calming breath and relaxed her shoulders as if preparing for battle. Be professional, Eleanora!

She forced a smile—and squelched the oddest shiver as their eyes met. “Congratulations, Mr. Stratford.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, Rence. You don’t get all of her. She’s still half mine.” Mr. Norborg waggled a finger at her nemesis before leaning toward her. “Eleanora, you’ll retain your title and your duties with both of us. The health retreat will last a month, and afterwards I’ll be back home, but still on vacation. I’ll check in periodically—or as much as Margaret will allow in her planned fitness regimen.”

Oh, great. Did that make her the rope in a tug of war? She kept her eyes on the chairman. but the new CEO spoke up with his first order for her. She wrote her notes carefully.

“Call a division meeting, presidents and vice presidents only, tomorrow at three for everybody who can get here and a phone conference for the rest. Issue the press release afterwards.”

Mr. Norborg waved his hand toward the other man. “Rence will resign as president of MedSol, and his VP will take over. We have this week to bring him up to date. He’ll move to this office, so put my things into the empty office next door. We’ll reevaluate my duties and yours when I return.”

“Mrs. Jensen, our two administrative assistants, and I will be able to handle our new CEO’s needs, I’m sure,” Eleanora replied. At least, despite her still-jangling nerves, her voice sounded normal, and she was relieved that the chairman wasn’t about to leave completely. She did not relish the immediate future working with her new boss, however.

Mr. Norborg looked from Mr. Stratford to her. “I know this period is going to be demanding and challenging for all of us, but especially so for you two. Let me be clear about your working relationship. Eleanora, you remain my representative. I need you here as my eyes and ears while I’m out. When conveying my requests or decisions, you speak with my voice and the power of the chairman—that doesn’t change. You, Rence, and I will continue to consult on all matters important to the company as a whole.”

He turned to his nephew. “Rence, you’re running the company with all that entails. When Eleanora has my hat on, she is your equal. Treat her, her recommendations, her ideas and opinions as if I was here. As your chief of staff, she is also your representative, advisor, researcher, and reporter, and a whole host of other responsibilities. She is your best source for corporate-wide information. She is not your secretary or admin. Check the job description, and talk with her about what she does for me. She has my utmost confidence. You’ll find it imperative for both of you that she have yours.”

“Works for me,” Mr. Stratford said with a straight face—as though he’d follow those instructions to the letter. “I expect we’ll have the office humming in no time.”

Eleanora only nodded. As pleased as Mr. Norborg’s praise made her, she knew working with the new CEO on a daily basis would be extremely wearing on her self-control. Her “half-boss” was a genius at getting on her nerves—and he knew and enjoyed it.

“The most important project right now is the acquisition of Millard Instruments,” Mr. Norborg went on. “I want that company. Its new test for pancreatic cancer at a very early stage of development will allow us to enter a promising new area of business. It should add impressively to MedSol’s bottom line. To have that addition up and running by the new year, we must sign the papers in the next two months. Get it done.”

Mr. Stratford said nothing, but Eleanora thought he nodded as she took notes. She believed as the chairman did in the worth of adding the company to WIN. She wrote Millard on her action list and put a star by it.

“Are there any other matters I should be aware of?”

“No, nothing pressing,” Mr. Norborg said. “Let’s start bringing Rence up to speed.”

“Before we continue, why don’t I check with Mrs. Jensen on the meetings and start Public Relations on the announcements?” Eleanora asked. “It won’t take a minute.”

“Yes, do that.” Mr. Norborg waved her out.

“Oh, and make the division meeting a videoconference,” Mr. Stratford called after her.

Binder in hand, Eleanora walked quickly out of the chairman’s office and into Bernice Jensen’s realm. Mr. Norborg’s executive administrative assistant was in her fifties, short, fairly round, energetic, and a fierce controller of the gateway to the chairman and CEO. Eleanora and Bernice had become fast friends over the three years Eleanora had been at WIN Industries.

 “Why didn’t you tell me about the news?” Eleanora asked after she was sure the door behind her was closed.

“I didn’t have the chance,” Bernice answered. “He was here when I arrived, told me he was stepping down as CEO and Rence was taking the position, and sent me over to Human Resources to start the paperwork. When I got back, you were already in the meeting.”

Eleanora told Bernice about the needed arrangements. “I’ll get PR started on press releases. Since I didn’t expect Mr. Stratford, I need another copy of the meeting notes for today.”

“No problem.” Bernice buzzed Sally, Eleanora’s admin, on the intercom.

Sally took the folder while Eleanora placed the call to start the press release procedure.

“The meeting rooms are set,” Bernice reported when Eleanora hung up. “You know, I’m not really surprised at Win’s decision. He’s always liked a challenge, and I’m not sure he’s found that in the company lately.”

“I can understand that, but why . . .”

“Why Rence Stratford?” Bernice chuckled. “I know he drives you crazy, but you can learn a lot from him. For a man only thirty-five, he’s come a long way fast, and Win wouldn’t have given him the job if he couldn’t do it. I’ve known Rence most of his life, and he’s a good man and an excellent manager. You realize that deep down. You simply need to admit it.”

“His division is the most profitable in the company, so I know he’s doing something right, but . . .”

Bernice’s phone rang, and that gave Eleanora the space to think about what she couldn’t in front of Mr. Stratford. What would this change mean for her personally? Would she be able to fulfill her dream—first to run a WIN division, then a company of her own? Mr. Norborg knew her goals—indeed he had encouraged her, promised her she’d get her chance, and taught her so much about how his company succeeded and grew. What would the jester do?



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