Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chapter Eight McBride Mortgage Company

UPDATE: Unlikely Merger is NOW available! We will offer
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!

Mercy continues her journey to investigate businesses for possible acquisition by her father's company. Her job sounds like a lot of fun - would you like it?

Today, we'll join her in Chapter Eight as she heads to St. Louis. Wonder who she'll meet there?

Here are links to the previous chapters, in case you need them to help you decide.

Unlikely Merger: Chapter One
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Two
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Three
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Four
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Five

Unlikely Merger: Chapter Six
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight
McBride Mortgage Company, St. Louis, Missouri

“I really wish you were coming with me to St. Louis, Uncle Thomas. It’s a big city.”
Mercy hopped around her bedroom with one running shoe on and the other dangling untied from her toes as she squeezed the phone between her shoulder and ear, grasping for the laces with her other hand. Uncle Thomas was always a welcome companion, and Mercy had hoped this next trip just might lure him away from home and out on the road with her again.
“Big cities have big opportunities, Mercy. Remember, you’re only looking at one enterprise. You’ve done well without me.”
“It has been a better experience than I expected. Meeting so many new people has been eye-opening. I feel like I’m getting a crash-course business degree by being able to see so many different companies firsthand and how they operate.”
“Well, I have to admit I’m tempted. The fishing in Missouri is good. Right about now is a prime time to be there, when things start thawing out and moving around. It’s a comfortable laid-back place, there in Missouri.”
“Too bad I’ll be stuck in the city learning about the mortgage company Dad has his eye on there. He has already been looking into the numbers and the financial aspects. I’m going there to get a feel for the atmosphere, the morale of the employees, not to mention their ethics. That would be important to know about any lender Lacewell plans to invest in or to buy out.” With her shoe firmly tied, she reached for a band and with one hand pulled her hair into a ponytail.
Her bag lay open beside her, half-packed, the beginnings of preparations for tomorrow’s trip. By now Mercy was an expert at getting herself travel-ready. She had plenty of time to fit in a run before tossing in the last few necessities.
“I know your dad is very proud of the work you’ve been doing for Lacewell these past few months. Your instincts are good. I hear you’ve made some great suggestions on the direction Lacewell should go.”
Mercy absently threw a few more items into the bag as she moved around the room searching for her Garmin to strap to her wrist. “Leave it to me to not know the location of my GPS running watch before heading out the door,” she muttered, half to herself, half to Uncle Thomas, as she searched under a pile of to-be-folded laundry.
“You keeping up with your social life? Friends? Dating?” Uncle Thomas asked.
She almost laughed out loud. “Come on. You know I’m not looking for romance right now. College life seems like a life-time ago. I’m honored to have been able to serve my dad through his illness and now that he is so much better, to take a small part in the company …”
Mercy looked at the collection of college and grad-school photos still stuck in the crevices of her dresser mirror, some now curling at the edges, and smiled. “I do miss my friends and the activities of the Campus Christian Center, but college life had its time and place. My place for now is here. God has led me where He has planned for me to be, and I’m glad to know my nursing education was put to good use helping someone I so dearly love.” 
“You’ll probably look back and be surprised at where the Lord leads you next from here. You never know what He has in store. Life rarely follows a straight path. Enjoy the journey and be open to whatever adventures God may put in front of you.”
“Come to St. Louis!” Mercy tried again. “You can enjoy the journey with me. We can add a few days on to the agenda and make time to drive out of the city to find some of this great fishing you claim exists in Missouri.”
“I believe I’ll sit this one out. But I’ll be praying for you. Each trip has its own challenges and rewards. See you when you get back, Mercy-girl.”


The early morning flight from Denver to St. Louis was uneventful, and Mercy easily made her way through the rental car process and then found her hotel. Spring in St. Louis was lovely, and trees were budding and blooming all over the city. After a quick change, she was on her way into the downtown area and to the high-rise building where her next business assignment was housed.
As she walked from the parking garage, Mercy passed by a large fountain in the plaza of the glass office building, and then through the marble lobby. When she stepped off the elevator onto the eleventh floor, and the mortgage company’s headquarters, she was met by a tall man, impeccably dressed, imposing and formal, waiting by the reception desk.
“Miss Lacewell, I presume?” Mercy nodded, but before she could speak, his formidable voice continued, “Welcome. I am Mason McBride, CEO of McBride Lending Group. I’m pleased to meet you. I hope you are enjoying your stay in the Gateway City.” Again, Mercy moved to speak, but Mr. McBride continued on, “Right this way and we’ll get started.”
McBride led her down a hallway with spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows the length of one wall. Through the expanse of windows she could see the graceful curve of the Gateway Arch, atop its massive stainless steel legs. Beyond the arch the churning, muddy waters of the Mississippi River rolled on their endless journey south. She took a deep breath and let it out. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
The boardroom at the end of the corridor buzzed with the chatter of several crisply-dressed professionals deep in conversation over piles of files, hunched over laptops, and viewing a PowerPoint display projected onto a pull-down screen.
Upon their entrance, Mr. McBride’s presence in the boardroom silenced the muted conversations, and all eyes turned to him, and then to Mercy. After he introduced her to the group, the meeting progressed fairly quickly. Each executive supplied her with the technical data needed to convince her that purchasing this company would be the right decision for expanding the Lacewell Limited portfolio.
As the meeting continued, Mercy couldn’t help noticing the handsome, restless-looking guy in the corner. She struggled to keep her mind sharp and tuned in to each presentation, but she felt powerless to prevent her eyes from wandering in his direction.
He was tall, athletically built, and more tanned than his counterparts, with his tie loosened a bit more than the other gentlemen. His dark blond hair was cut professionally short over his ears and collar, but the golden waves on top, streaked lighter by the sun, hinted at a more rugged quality. He appeared to be having as much trouble as Mercy maintaining interest in the high-stakes salesmanship going on around the room. His distraction seemed to be outside the impressive glass wall.
Something about the way he glanced at the clouds, studied the muddy waters, and seemed to connect with the outdoors made Mercy certain this boardroom was not where he wanted to be. Introduced as the mortgage company’s Information Technology Director, Levi Shepherd, he laid out a short efficient plan for how his department kept the computer and information systems secure and functional. Levi’s expertise impressed Mercy, and his colleagues seemed to respect his knowledge.
Once he completed his presentation, he seemed to listen carefully for the remainder of the meeting, except for the time he caught Mercy’s eye on him and flashed a quick grin. Mercy glanced down, searching for her place in the document being discussed, slightly embarrassed that he had noticed her attention on him.
After the meeting closed, Mercy confirmed her agenda with Mr. McBride for the next day. She would tour one of the lender’s nearby branch offices in the morning and then meet with the Board of Directors at a luncheon in the early afternoon. He escorted her back through the reception lobby and saw her to the elevator.
She emerged from the chilly cavernous bottom floor into the brilliant warmth of the early spring day. She sat on a bench near the tall stone wall surrounding the fountain in the front plaza, soaking in the glory of the golden, late afternoon sun. Mercy closed her eyes and turned her face upward.
“Well, hello there, Boss!”
Her eyes popped open. The captivating IT officer from the boardroom smiled at Mercy as he strode near the fountain. With his tie further loosened and his jacket now gone, his features looked infinitely more relaxed.
“Oh, no. I’m not the one to come in and run things,” she explained. “My mission here is to scope out business opportunities for my father’s company and report back to him. I wouldn’t know the first thing about running a mortgage company. I’m better at sensing the company culture and determining what would fit in with the portfolio at Lacewell Limited.”
Levi leaned one arm casually on the stone wall of the fountain, facing Mercy. “This is certainly a great company. I’ve really enjoyed my time here at McBride and feel blessed to have this job.”
A certain wistfulness surrounded Levi. Mercy could hear it in what he wasn’t saying. “Somehow I feel like that statement should be followed by a ‘but’,” Mercy coaxed, curious about what made Levi tick.
He smiled and let his hand dip into the clear water of the fountain's pool. “Well, knowing that this company is up for sale and that mergers usually mean layoffs has gotten me thinking that maybe I should reassess my priorities and consider doing something different with my life. Something that I really love.”
“You don’t love hanging out in boardrooms?” she teased.
Levi shook his head and chuckled. “This world of high-finance has been good to me, and I enjoy being able to use my degree in a place where I am challenged, but I just have a sense that there is more out there. I’ve been thinking about pursuing some other options. This career path may not be the right road for me forever.”
Mercy nodded, gaining a sense of satisfaction in hearing Levi affirm that she had correctly guessed this tiny bit about him. He was no ordinary corporate executive. “I did get the feeling there was more to you than warding off cyber attacks.”
Levi looked up at the newly budding trees, and seemed to really study the leaves. Then he looked back down at Mercy and grinned sheepishly. “Am I that obvious? I have a feeling you saw through me the minute you walked into the boardroom.”
Mercy reveled in Levi’s Midwestern warmth and desired to know more about the man behind the relaxed smile. She hoped he would continue opening up about himself. Instead he sighed and asked, “So what about you? Do you see a straight path neatly laid out in front of you? A highway of corporate takeovers just waiting to be conquered?”
That dazzling grin lit his face again, reaching down to tug at Mercy’s emotions.
“Well, no.” She stood and joined him by the stone wall of the fountain. “Actually, I studied nursing and was in the middle of my post-grad work when my dad suffered a stroke. He needed a round-the-clock nurse, but more importantly, he needed me. The decision to leave school and be at his side was an easy one to make. He has recovered wonderfully, but not fully. He’s still in a wheelchair, but his mind is sharp and his determination and trust in the Lord are as iron-clad as always. He asked me to take on a small role in the company, and that role does seem to be expanding little by little. So, here I am. Mercy Lacewell, Corporate Scout. Just following the road my dad has laid out for me. For now.”
“Do you think you’ll be going back into nursing? It’s a noble career. Nurses are unsung heroes, I believe.”
“That door isn’t closed, but I just don’t know. I’m kind of on auto-pilot.” Mercy couldn’t resist turning and dipping her fingers in the icy water of the fountain alongside Levi.
“You mentioned your dad’s trust in the Lord. Do you mind my asking if you share that same faith? I’ve found that depending on the Lord has helped me as I struggle with making some of these decisions about my own future. I’m sure He has a plan for you, too. For all of us.” He shook the water from his hands but continued leaning on one elbow, facing her.
She nodded and smiled, thrilling at the knowledge that Levi was a believer. “Yes, my parents taught me about the Lord from an early age, but more importantly, I trusted in Jesus as my Savior when I was a little girl, and my relationship with Him is my own. I’ve relied on Him ever since.”
“I’m glad for you. This world can be a crazy place to navigate, without a strong faith. I lead a Bible study at my church for ‘twenty-somethings,’ as my pastor likes to call us, and I see firsthand the struggles Christians face in the world, at work, social gatherings … life in general.”
“I know what you mean. I really appreciated my campus pastor and the other Christian friendships I developed when I was at the university. I now have lifelong relationships because of that bond.”
Levi straightened. “How long are you in town? I would love to show you where I think the Lord may be leading me. Are you up for a little outdoor adventure? Say Saturday morning?”
“Well, I have a few more rounds of meetings tomorrow … and was going to head out in the evening …” Mercy hesitated, not sure if she should accept such an offer, but Levi’s open smile and the promise of an outdoor adventure with him were more than she could resist. “I suppose I could stick around through the weekend.”
“Great. Now let’s go grab some lunch. And if you’d like, I can show you my background check so you’ll know you haven’t just agreed to spend time with an axe murderer.”
“Oh, no need. Remember, I’m here to vet the people of this company. Lacewell does its homework before they send me on the road, and I’ve seen the background checks on all of your management team. Not an axe murderer in the bunch.” Mercy laughed as she shook the water from her fingers and followed Levi from the plaza. At least she could share the story of another SAM with Madeline on Monday.


Saturday morning was another clear, spring day with an exhilarating bite in the chilly air. Levi met Mercy in her hotel lobby and within an hour, they had driven south to a charming farm owned by a friend of Levi’s. When they began unloading the back cargo area of his small SUV, Mercy gasped as he removed a tackle box.
"Now I feel like you must have done a background check on me! How did you know fishing is one of my all-time favorite things to do?"
"Well, I kind of took a chance on that. You didn't strike me as someone who was afraid to get a little dirty."
They began to hike toward the tributary river that Levi told her ran through the property.
Levi tramped through the weeds ahead of Mercy, glancing back every so often to offer a gentlemanly hand or to make sure she was making it okay with her load. She had insisted on carrying her gear and assured Levi that she was a competent fishing partner.
She heard the rushing water of the river before she saw it as they wound their way down the steep bank toward the inviting sound. She was no stranger to great fishing spots, but something in the air here made her skin feel electric. She wasn’t sure if it was her surroundings or Levi.
Or the fact that she would be able to tell Uncle Thomas about the adventure he missed by refusing to join her on this trip.
When they finally dropped down below the bluff and settled on a large flat rock, the beauty of the river swept over Mercy. This was not an unfamiliar site, but rather a comfortable, homey, this-is-where-I-belong kind of feeling. No wonder Levi had stared out the window during the meeting. Who wouldn’t rather be here than in a cold, climate-controlled building?
He paused briefly from unpacking his gear to follow her gaze across the water, the rocks, and to the bluffs on the other side.
“Nothing like it, huh? It’s almost a surreal beauty, and yet I feel so comfortable here. I’d rather be outside in God’s creation than just about anywhere.”
“It was so obvious to me when I first saw you, in your suit and tie, trying to focus on business reports, that your heart wasn’t where your body was at that moment. You were present but still far away.” Mercy untangled her fishing line. “Tell me about this possible career change. Would making that change mean you would actually get to be with your wandering mind all day?”
Levi baited his hook and reached to do the same for Mercy. She playfully swatted him away as she grabbed a fat worm out of the bucket. “I’ve got it, cowboy. I’ve been hooking worms all my life.” Mercy proved her point by expertly hooking the fat wiggler and casting her line.
Levi nodded his approval and dropped his line into the water. “What I’d like to do is start my own business, something right here on this spot, actually. This farm is for sale, and I’d love to own it. I’ve been dreaming of setting up a fishing guide service, building some small rental cabins over there,” he pointed to a flat spot above the bluffs, “maybe some camping spots over there …” He continued pointing out different areas of the property and explaining what he’d like to do with each.
“Do you have financing in place to get you started? A business plan? Marketability studies?” Mercy surprised herself at how easily the business-related questions came to her. Maybe she was cut out to work for Lacewell after all.
“I’ve looked into some options, and I’ve done my homework. Working with the bank like I have these past years, I’ve made some relationships, connections. I’m really just trusting that when the Lord confirms my path, those details that I’ve been praying over will be evident as well.”
“Do you have partners in mind, or is this going to be a solo venture?”
“Everything in life is better with a partner,” Levi turned his face to look squarely at Mercy. When their eyes met, his shyness suddenly appeared and charmed her. He turned back to watching his line bobbing in the river. “But, no, I can’t say that I have invited anyone else into my plans. Yet. That’s another one of those details I’m waiting for the Lord to confirm.”
Mercy looked heavenward, the sun’s warmth reaching deep inside as they sat on the bluffs. She enjoyed the gurgle of the river as they occasionally reeled in a keeper and shared life stories. She could definitely picture Levi here, running a business and showing hospitality to visitors eager to experience the outdoors.
Finally, the bright sunlight turned a deep golden hue, as it filtered through the newly sprouting leaves then started to fade. The hours passed like minutes, and Mercy was reluctant to leave when the time finally came.
As Levi drove Mercy back toward the lights of St. Louis and to her hotel, she couldn’t help but think that even though she wasn’t convinced the mortgage company was the right fit for Lacewell Limited, she had found an investment she might like to make in her future.

From the Authors of Unlikely Merger

Tuesday, June 16

Monday, June 15

Marji Laine:  Ain't Nothin' Easy

Saturday, June 13

A Dozen ApologiesAvailable on Kindle

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