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“Happy New Year!” Elizabeth said to no one as she danced around her office. “It is going to be a banner year here at Elmwood Zoo.” After five years of planning and hard work, it was all coming together.
Just last month the zoo had broke ground on a new project to expand the Gorilla Habitat and Ape House. With her plans approved and funding secured this summer would bring the grand opening of the new Treetop Trails an ambitious project costing around fifty million dollars.
“Oh, Lizzie?” Christina the Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer came bursting into her office. “What are you going to do? All your hard work?”
Elizabeth stopped dancing and stared at Christina in confusion.
Scanning her features briefly for acknowledgment, Christina looked horrified. “You don’t know.”
There was no easy way to say it. Christina blurted out, “Mr. Dallas has died.”
Shocked, Christina leaned against her desk for support. “Wow.” She had just talked to him two days ago. He was her biggest supporter. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on his birthday. He just turned eighty-seven.
Christina waited for the shock to wear off and the understanding to seep in.
In seconds, Elizabeth leaped off her desk. “Treetop Trails? The expansion?”
“With Mr. Dallas gone we’re in trouble,” Christina said. “His will states in the event of his death all his funds go to his foundation for protecting the gorillas in the wild.”
“So, that’s it? We’re cut off. We’ve already begun work. How am I going to pay the workers? How are we going to complete the project? If the work stops now, where will we house the animals? If relocated to other Zoos, we could lose them permanently.”
Elizabeth paced her office like a caged panther. She had to think, she had to come up with a plan.
“Look,” Christina said offering a small ray of hope, “I’ve called. Most of the donors are up for making a memorial fund to help the project but they can’t give up the funds now. It would happen over time as funds become available, even then we are still going to come up short.”
Elizabeth stopped pacing. “How short?”
Christina winced before saying, “A half a million will keep the project running, at least until the other funds arrive.”
Elizabeth raised fifty million she wasn’t about to let her entire project fail because of a measly five hundred thousand. She had to come up with something. “What about a fundraiser?”
“We still need a sponsor to cover the expenses. The zoo is strapped,” Christina informed her.
Elizabeth bit her bottom lip in concentration. There must be a way.
“You have a connection you know? One we haven’t tapped yet,” Christina reminded her.
The reminder was a painful one. Ben. She had gotten this far without asking for his assistance but now her back was to the wall. She wouldn’t have to hit him up for the full funds only enough to cover whatever fundraising idea her and Christina concocted.
Her pride would suffer a major blow, but to save her animals and the project, she’d date the devil himself, and Ben wasn’t too far off that mark. Ben Styles was a world-renowned Wildlife Documentary Film Maker. His style had revolutionized how other documentaries were made. He was also gorgeous and dangerous, mostly to Elizabeth who made the mistake of giving him her heart years ago only to have him stomp on it like a herd of elephants on a stampede.
“He’s back in the states, you know?” Christina pushed.
Of course, she knew. Elizabeth followed Ben’s career like a fanboy follows his favorite comic book. There wasn’t a detail she didn’t know and in fact, she had insider information. He wasn’t just in the States but back in their hometown, catching up with old friends as he put it in his last voicemail to her.
In fact, he has been trying to see her for the last two weeks. She had been purposely ignoring his calls. Until now.”
“Where’s my phone?”
“WooHoo!” Christina said her fist pumping the air. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” Frantically she searched for Elizabeth’s phone and threw it to her before she could change her mind.
Elizabeth flipped to her voicemail and hit Call Back on his last message.
“It’s about time. I thought perhaps you’d forgotten me,” said the sexiest voice Elizabeth ever heard. His tone low and seductive, nearly a growl, sent shivers down her spine.
Steady girl. Elizabeth warned her head and heart. You can do this. “Hi, stranger. Sorry, I’ve been really busy but hey, are you available for lunch today?”
“You know I’d always make myself available to you,” he taunted.
Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. It just Lunch, surely you can make it through one lunch date. She almost chickened out but Christina was there holding up a picture of Guhuza her favorite gorilla in the troop. She really knows how to fight dirty.
“How about one o’clock. I’ll meet you at Tony’s?” she said hoping she sounded carefree and unaffected.
“Looking forward to it. Later, Lizzie.”
She hung up the phone and stared at it for a second or two. Was it too late to make a deal with the devil?
“We haven’t much time,” Christina said, throwing Elizabeth’s jacket at her while pulling her out of her office.