Home > Heart Strings

Heart Strings
Author: Melanie Moreland

Chapter 1

 

 

Lottie

 

 

Voices droned on about numbers throughout the boardroom. Projected budgets, debt ratio, timelines. All very important—all very dull. I stared out the window at the darkening late afternoon, losing myself in the sway of the tree branches as the wind lifted them, graceful and flowing. Snow swirled, light and diaphanous, the flakes caught in the streetlights beginning to flicker on. It was a dance of sorts—a beautiful, elegant display of the winter that was closing in all around us.

Much like these walls I felt closing in around me.

I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and tried to concentrate on the meeting. Casting my gaze around the table, I saw that everyone was now looking at the forecasted dates, so I hastily flipped the pages, knowing I had missed much of what they’d discussed.

“Charlotte, do you have any concerns in this area?”

I lifted my eyes, meeting the intense gaze of the CEO, Charles Prescott. His stare was calm and steady, yet I wondered if he knew I had been drifting.

I swallowed nervously. “Not at this time.”

“Good. Ralph, what about your area?”

I huffed a small sigh of relief, grateful I had gone through all the notes on the project prior to the meeting. I knew the ins and outs, and at that point, barring some catastrophe, I had no concerns.

I made an effort to concentrate. I attempted to pay attention, jotting down notes and nodding as others around the table made comments. It lasted about fifteen minutes, until a gust of wind rattled the glass, and I looked over to see the snow getting thicker. A familiar thrill ran through me.

I loved winter. I loved the cold, the snow, and everything it brought with it. The sounds and sights of the upcoming holidays. Sledding, skiing, even walking in the newly fallen snow—especially at night when the flakes drifted down and the streets were empty. I would walk for hours, bundled up and protected against the frigid cold. I walked until my nose tingled and my fingers curled inside my mittens.

I loved mittens.

My favorite thing to do in the winter was to curl up on the sofa with a good book, a steaming cup of hot chocolate, and a cozy blanket. Alone and peaceful. It was a stolen pleasure most of the time.

“Charlotte?”

I blinked, bringing myself back to the present. My chest tightened when I realized I had drifted away again. My hand was slack, my pen rested on the open file, and my head was down. It probably looked as if I were asleep.

I raised my head, forcing a smile. “Sorry, I was lost in thought. Crunching some numbers in my head.”

Charles lifted his eyebrows, leaving me no doubt he knew my mind had wandered from the meeting and my thoughts had nothing to do with numbers.

“I asked if you were available to be on the committee. I’d like you involved.”

I stifled a groan. Another committee. More meetings to sit in on and boring discussions to have—to listen to other executives drone on about how important they were to the project. I hated those meetings.

“Of course. I’ll make sure I clear my schedule.”

“Excellent. Okay, everyone, that’s it for today. The snowstorm is getting bad, so be safe out there.”

I stood, grateful the meeting was finished.

Charles held up his hand. “A moment, Charlotte.”

I sat down, keeping the neutral look on my face, knowing I was about to get a lecture. He waited until everyone was gone, stood and rounded the table, sitting beside me.

“Are you all right, Charlotte?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem like yourself. You’ve been off for the past while.”

I traced the woodgrain with my finger, unable to meet his eyes. I knew I would see disappointment. “I’m a bit distracted,” I admitted. “I have a lot on my plate.”

“We all do. That’s the nature of this business. I need your head in the game on this one. It’s huge. I’m counting on you.”

“I know.” I cleared my throat. “It won’t happen again.”

He studied me for a moment, then tilted his head in acknowledgment. “I expect you to do better.”

Shame tore through me. “I will.”

“You look drained.”

I was surprised at the unexpected, personal remark. “I’m fine. Honest, I am.”

“All right. You’re a grown woman, so I’ll take your word for it. I suggest you limit your nights out to the weekends. I need you sharp. No more drifting during meetings.”

“Yes, sir.”

He stood, smoothing down his suit jacket, an action not required—Charles Prescott always looked impeccable. His silver hair gleamed under the lights, not a strand out of place. At sixty, he was still tall and broad, his posture stiff. His blue eyes were like ice—light and piercing. When I was little, I swore they saw everything, no matter how I tried to hide my mistakes. I was sure they still did.

He crossed the room, pausing at the door. “Your mother is expecting you for dinner this evening.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Will you be riding with me?”

“No, I have a few things to do first. I’ll take the subway.”

He exhaled hard, the sound impatient. “You know how I feel about that, Lottie. I wish you would stop with that independent attitude and let me give you a car and driver.”

It was rare to see a glimpse of my father in the office. There we were Charles and Charlotte. Lottie was never used. Personal things were never discussed. The lines were clearly drawn. It was business, plain and simple. It didn’t matter that I was named after him or that I was his daughter. He was firm on his rules. I was used to it, and I made sure to follow them at all times. That was what was expected of a Prescott.

“I like to walk.”

He snorted and rolled his eyes. “And take the subway.”

I shrugged. “I like the people. I like watching them.”

“You can do that from the comfort of a town car.”

It was my turn to roll my eyes. “That smacks of being elitist.”

He smiled at me—a cold smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Heaven forbid I sound elitist when it comes to the safety of my daughter.”

“I’m fine. I’m careful.”

“I still don’t like it.”

My stomach clenched at the thought of him insisting on the car. If that happened, the one thing that made my life bearable these days, the one bright spot, would be taken away. I couldn’t let that happen.

“Please drop it,” I begged, my throat tight with emotion. “Let me have this bit of freedom.”

He pulled open the door. “Fine. For now. But the subject isn’t closed.”

I picked up my files, following him out the door. “I never expected it to be.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Lottie

 

 

Time dragged. I watched the clock, its hands slowly counting down the seconds until I could leave. Everyone laughed at the old-fashioned battery-operated timepiece I kept on my desk. I liked the soothing sound of the soft movement of the hands as it ticked away the minutes. The quiet chimes it made every hour helped me through the days.

Finally, it was six. I slammed down the lid on my laptop, jamming it into my messenger bag. I made sure I had my pass, and I headed for the elevator. Before the doors closed, my father stepped in.

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