Friday, June 19, 2015

Chapter Eleven Knight-Link and Associates

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

Today is Mercy's final journey - at least for now! After today's chapter, you'll have met all of Mercy's potential suitors. Which one do you think will be the best fit for her? Get ready to play matchmaker - voting opens TOMORROW!

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
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Eight
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Nine
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven
Knight-Link & Associates, Lexington, KY

Chicago O’Hare. Not Mercy’s favorite airport by a long shot, even compared to LAX. She massaged her temples before darting another look at the departures list. Delayed. How much longer?
This was the reason she hated crossing the country. The nation’s midsection attracted storms, especially in the spring.
Her phone rang again. Madeline. Probably worried about her. “Yes, I’m still at O’Hare.”
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. But that’s not really why I called. I’m e-mailing you an updated DUNS analysis for KLA. Your father said the other one was outdated.”
Mercy covered her other ear to block out the voice on the intercom. “On purpose?”
“On purpose what?”
“The DUNS—was it outdated on purpose, do you think?”
“No, probably not. It’s not terribly different, just a couple of points.”
Mercy heard the click of the keyboard. Madeline could never just talk on the phone. She usually had two or three other things going as well. “Okay. I’ll take a look at it. It’ll get my mind off the weather.”
“I’ll call Elise. Give her a head’s up that your flight is delayed.”
Mercy frowned at the Departures again. “Elise?”
“Yes, the owner of the B&B.”
“Ah. Yes, thank you.” Why was she surprised? Of course, Madeline knew the name of the B&B’s owner.
“And keep your eyes open for that SAM.”
Mercy refused to fuel that fire. “Ha ha. Very funny.” After Madeline hung up, Mercy stood for a moment, to get the blood flowing. The Dun & Bradstreet analytics weren’t that important at this point. Getting to her destination was.
The flight to Lexington, Kentucky would take less than an hour. She’d been stuck here at O’Hare for three. An e-mail pinged her phone. She sank into the instrument of torture that passed for a chair and pulled out her tablet. Before checking her e-mail, she touched the icon for Knight-Link & Associates Architectural Engineers. Another business that made her queasy. She didn’t know much about architecture or engineering, but Daddy had assured her it was pretty straight-forward. Philip Knight had contacted Daddy about brokering a merger.
She closed out the webpage and opened her e-mail. Before she could click on the attached file, her flight was announced, finally ending the long wait.


Why had she drunk that second cup of coffee? Then all that time sitting in morning traffic looking for KLA, which was only two miles from the B&B. She had certainly underestimated small-town traffic. Not only was she running late, she would have to begin with a trip to the little girls’ room.
She hurried through the front door, barely noticing anything other than the young woman sitting at the front desk. The woman smiled as Mercy approached. “May I help you?”
“Mercy Lacewell. I’m here to see Philip Knight. But first, could you direct me to the ladies’ room?”
“Of course. Down that hall, first door on the left.”
Mercy rushed forward and found the door marked “Ladies.” She started to push it open when it was pulled open from the other side. A muscular man with dark hair towered over her.
What on earth? She leaned to the right just enough to double check the sign on the door. She hadn’t made a mistake.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. Hazel eyes calmed from surprise to humor.
Six foot something, his University of Kentucky t-shirt tucked-in to faded jeans. Wavy brown hair, a plunger in his hand. She did not want to know where that had been.
Please don’t say it’s out of order. Please. Don’t.
He stepped aside for her to pass, pointing inside toward the row of stalls. “I locked the door to the one ... ah ... there are two others available.” He took his plunger and headed down the hall in the opposite direction she had come.
When she headed back to the foyer a few minutes later, a pleasant-looking, older man leaned against the reception desk. Mercy sized him up with a quick glance. Clean-shaven face, close-cropped brown hair, around five foot eleven. He wore brown slacks and a pale yellow golf shirt. His eyes followed Mercy’s progress as he spoke to the young woman at the desk.
He pushed away as she approached. “Mercy Lacewell?”
She held out her hand. “Mr. Knight, you look just like your picture.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. We’re headed to the conference room, right this way.” He waited for her to draw alongside. “I hope you had a good flight. I heard there were some weather delays.”
She nodded. “Yes, storms in Chicago.” She started to say more but stopped as they approached the open door to a room filled with people. Her stomach lurched as her nerves sprang to life. She hadn’t expected a capacity crowd. The room quieted as they entered.
Mr. Knight pulled out a chair for her then proceeded to the head of the table. “Everyone, this is Mercy Lacewell of Lacewell Limited.”
As he continued his opening, Mercy felt like a hambone surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs. She tucked her feet beneath her chair and breathed deeply then eased her gaze around the table in an effort to discern the spirit of the meeting. She would call it mixed reviews.
“Miss Lacewell,” Mr. Knight said, “why don’t you begin by telling us exactly what we can expect from this proposed partnership.” He paused a moment, observing her. A smile eased over his expression. “Many of the folks at this table are concerned that merger means layoffs ... or worse.”
She scanned their faces again. Instead of hungry dogs, she saw worry. Brows crinkled by anxiety. She addressed their concerns using learned language delivered with the same calm she would use on an injured patient.
The rest of the meeting proceeded without a hitch. She gave them answers to their questions or promised to find out for them. Finally, Mr. Knight ended the meeting and stood.
Several of the employees greeted her and offered any assistance she might need in her assessment. As the last few filed out, she noticed the man she’d met earlier. The man she’d assumed was a janitor stood just inside the door. How long had he been there?
He wore a crooked smile, half tease, half mischief. Those hazel eyes held hers for a long, breathless moment.
Mr. Knight stepped toward Mercy. “Miss Lacewell, this is my nephew, Daniel Knight. He’s here on loan from my brother’s design firm.”
Daniel stepped forward, his eyes still on Mercy. “We’ve met, briefly. Near a water feature.”
Mercy cleared her throat as she offered her hand. Daniel gave it a firm shake.
Mr. Knight turned toward the door but kept his eyes on her. “I’ve asked Daniel to show you one of our most interesting projects.” He thrust his hands in his pockets and headed out. “Come see me when you get back.”
Daniel nodded in the direction his uncle had taken. “Shall we go?” He stopped by a desk on the way out and picked up a cowboy hat. He donned it as they walked outside.
It was a stretch, but Mercy managed to climb into the Ford F250 on her own, without the help of the cowboy.
The hat stayed firmly in place as Daniel pulled out onto Versailles Road. He turned at a sign that read, “Driving Tour,” keeping up a running commentary in a pleasant voice with only a hint of an accent.
But the vistas that opened around each bend of the two-lane road took all of Mercy’s attention. Ancient stone walls lined the road in some places. Old maple trees unfurled new green leaves. Foals frolicked in rolling pastures. Here and there, a stately mansion delighted her senses.
He pulled into a wide entrance with an electronic gate. A small sign identified it as Danforth Gate Three.
After entering a code, the wrought-iron gate opened. Daniel drove through. The drive led to a parking area in front of a long, low building, still under construction.
“This is it,” he said with a grin that seemed to illuminate the truck’s cab. “In case you haven’t guessed, I design equine habitats.”
Mercy couldn’t halt the smile. “Equine habitats? Is that a fancy name for a barn?”
He winked as he opened the door and hopped down. He was at her door in seconds.
She gripped his hand and allowed him to help her out of the thing. Their eyes met. Warmth flooded her cheeks. Should have worn pants and sneakers. But how could she guess they’d visit a construction site? Again, she hadn’t considered her past experiences. When would she ever learn?
“I doubt you’ve ever seen a barn like this,” he said, holding the door open for her.
No, she had not. The ceiling rose high over their heads into sort of a rotunda, providing natural light. Stalls lined one side. The area beneath the rotunda provided a round exercise area, still in progress. Workers were everywhere, painting, pounding, drilling.
Mercy stopped at the door of the first stall. “These horses live in style.”
“They live better than some folks.” He pointed out the different sections of the building and explained their uses. As he talked, she watched his expression. His pride in the work was obvious.
He wasn’t what she would call outstanding, as far as looks went, but he made up for it in personality. He wore his good nature like a comfortable shirt, and she knew without asking, Jesus lived in his heart. He had that special something in his eyes, a kind of spiritual communication that cannot be faked. He didn’t wear a wedding ring, and he seemed interested in her.
Or was it only her imagination? Why was she even thinking about this? Thank you, Madeline for planting ideas about SAM in my head. She cleared her throat. “Did you get your degree at UK?”
He paused to brush sawdust from the front of his t-shirt. “I attended UK for two years then transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder. They had the best engineering program.” He grinned. “And I like the area.”
She returned his smile. “What did you like about it? The mountains? The dry weather?”
“The whole package.” His phone rang, and he excused himself. “I’m out here right now. That’d be great, Darlene. See you in a few.” He sent a smile Mercy’s way. “We’ve got an invite to the main stables, if you’d like a close-up gander at some of those thoroughbreds.”
The day was looking up. Well, unless the woman he had talked to owned this man’s heart.
Darlene was a rail-thin, blue-jean clad woman in her early forties, head groom at Danforth. She introduced Mercy to some of the most beautiful horses she’d ever seen.
Twenty minutes later, Mercy sat in Daniel’s pickup again, this time, being serenaded by Christian pop rock. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. She’d actually expected country music. Cowboy country. “How did you become interested in designing barns ... I mean, equine habitats?”
He reached to turn down the music. His eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. He chuckled as he made a left turn onto a narrow, tree-lined road called Pisgah Pike. “In engineering school, actually. I tagged along on one of my engineering professor’s projects. He was re-designing a massive stable and grounds for a rodeo.”
“Was that in Boulder?”
He stopped at an intersection then turned right onto another narrow, winding road. This one was lined with the ancient stone walls so common in the area. “Outside Denver. The place was huge. But it piqued my interest. I submitted some ideas to one of the horse trainers in the Boulder area. He liked them, and the rest—”
“Is history.” She smiled into his eyes.
“What did you think of the thoroughbreds?”
She pursed her lips. He’d steered the conversation back to the beginning. She followed along. “They’re smaller than I expected. Fine-boned.”
He nodded. “They’ve been bred that way. It’s part of what makes them so fast. But they’re finicky and high-strung, too. That last one you saw, Starlet’s Graces, she’s a handful. Balks at the starting gate, every time.” He cast a grin her way. “Speaking of which, I was really impressed with the way you handled that meeting this morning.”
She searched his face. What did he mean by that? He’d been talking about starting gates.
He chuckled. “Everyone’s been pretty upset since my uncle announced his retirement plans. Even though he assured them he wasn’t going to shut the doors, rumors were rampant. You laid everything out, nice and clean. Your calm reassured everyone. I could tell.”
She bit back a smile.
Back at KLA, Daniel walked her inside and showed her to his uncle’s office. “You may not see me tomorrow,” he said.
Did she detect a hint of sadness in those hazel orbs? “Thank you for the tour, anyway. And if I don’t see you again—”
“Oh, I expect you’ll see him again,” Mr. Knight said, joining them at the door.
Mercy smiled as Daniel set off in the opposite direction, holding out his hand in farewell.
The last three hours of the day, she spent head to head with Mr. Knight going over every detail of the company’s balance sheet and DUNS report.
Finally, he leaned back in his chair, leveling his keen gaze at her. “One thing you won’t find in these reports, Miss Lacewell, is the faith that went into the building of this company. It’s the foundation, which is what drew me to Lacewell Limited. I’ve heard good things about your Daddy.”
Sincerity shone from his eyes as he spoke. Mercy closed her laptop and folded her hands on top. “If we decide to go through with this merger, we’ll do our best to measure up to your trust in us, Mr. Knight.”
He nodded then glanced at his watch. “I guess I better let you get out of here. At least you’ve missed the worst of the traffic.”
That was a happy thought.


On the final day, Mercy interviewed several of the staff, observed the operations, and quietly assessed the internal workings of KLA. By late afternoon, she was drained of energy and looking forward to another quiet night in her oh-so-comfy room. But at half-past four, Mr. Knight stuck his head in the door.
“Are you close to wrapping up here, Miss Lacewell?”
Mercy nodded. “I’m getting ready to send out the final e-mails and pack up my stuff.”
“Good, I’ve got us a dinner reservation. Can’t let you leave the area without paying a visit to Merrick’s.” His mouth eased into a wide smile that included his eyes. “My wife will be here any moment. She loves Merrick’s.”
Without another word, he disappeared around the corner. Mercy stood and pushed the door closed then picked up the phone. Daddy would want to talk to her about the latest e-mail she’d sent. “There were two major issues you’ll need to consider before investing in KLA. The State of Kentucky being a commonwealth, and the politics surrounding the larger, government jobs necessary for the company to maintain financial health.
“If you can retain the name, most of the staff, and Philip Knight as a consultant after his retirement, you’ve a good chance of success,” she told him.
Daddy mulled that over for a moment. “What do you think of Philip?”
“He seems like a very good man. A Christian man with strong principles. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. I need to close out here. I’ve been invited to dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Knight.”
“Well, let your hair down, sweetie. Try to have fun.”
“I’m going to try. Really. Love you.”


Lisa Knight was charming. Mercy warmed to her at once.
“I love your name,” she said, her eyes shining. “It always reminds me of my heavenly Father. Without His mercy, where would I be?”
Lisa and Mercy left ahead of Mr. Knight. He had a couple of things to clear up before he could leave the office. They arrived at the restaurant and were on their second glass of sweet tea when he arrived, followed by Daniel.
Mercy picked up her glass and took a sip, hoping to cool the heat rising up her neck and spreading into her cheeks. She smiled at Philip Knight as he sank into the chair beside his wife.
The glance that passed between them piqued Mercy’s curiosity.
Daniel sat next to Mercy. “Wonderful to see you again, Miss Lacewell.”
“I hope you like fried chicken,” Lisa Knight said to Mercy. “It’s their specialty.”
“I love it,” Mercy assured her, while looking with longing at a neighbor’s platter-sized portion of prime rib. Her mouth watered, but she ordered the fried chicken.
They’d had a delightful evening, leaving Mercy more convinced than ever that a merger would have a positive result.
Mercy’s phone showed 10:05 as Daniel pulled into the parking lot next to the office. She had no doubt the plan had been for Daniel to drive her, and she suspected the idea had been Lisa Knight’s.
She thanked him for the ride when he helped her out of the truck.
“It was my pleasure, Miss Lacewell.”
She dug around in her purse, looking for her keys, while searching for the right words to say. “If this merger is approved, I’ll be back in town. I’ll see you then?”
He gave a slight shrug, almost imperceptible in the near darkness. “Maybe. I live in Boulder. I’m just here to spearhead Danforth Farms’ new stables. When that’s finished, I’ll head back.”
Philip Knight’s words returned to her, He’s here on loan ... She raised her eyes to his. “Oh. Oh yes, I remember you telling me that.” She pressed the fob to unlock her car.
He opened the door and stood aside for her to get in.
“Thank you again, Daniel. Good night.”
“Goodnight, Miss Lacewell. God bless you with a smooth flight.” He shut her door and stood by as she started the car and backed out of the parking spot. Before she turned away, she waved. He touched the brim of his hat then turned toward his truck.


Madeline set a cup of fresh coffee on the desk in front of Mercy then sank into a chair across from her. “Well, tell me about this young man you met in Lexington.”
Mercy’s jaw dropped. She didn’t remember ever mentioning Daniel. Had she? “What young man?”
Madeline smiled then took a slow sip of her coffee. “I just got off the phone with Lisa Knight. She told me you seemed to hit it off with her nephew, Daniel. She also told me Daniel lives in Boulder.”
Mercy hid her expression behind her cup of coffee. “I believe he does.”
Madeline sent an I-told-you-so grin toward Mercy. “I googled him. He’s cute.”
“You did what? Madeline! He’s just an acquaintance. A very nice man, but I barely know him. We only talked a couple of times. I doubt I’ll ever see him again.”
Her coffee cup in hand, Madeline pushed up from her chair and turned to go. “We’ll see.” She twisted back around with a full-blown grin on her face. “I feel the wall crumbling, as we speak.”
Mercy toyed with her mouse a moment then opened a new tab to the search engine. “Well, If you’re going to check out Daniel, you might as well see the other SAMs. If I can find them on the net.”
Madeline chuckled. “Sounds like that wall is flat already.”
Ignoring her, Mercy showed her the photos she’d found of Rube. “Reuben Miller, or as most people know him, Rube.”
“You have to be kidding me.” Madeline pounced on the laptop and flipped to various images. “Is he a thug?”
“No, a new creation in Christ.” She commandeered the computer. “But his past still haunts him. She typed in Steve’s name. “And this one’s brother owns the trucking business. He drives, but he also has a farm that he’s hoping to use to fill food pantries and shelters.”
No picture popped up with him alone, but a news photo showed him amidst a crew of young people working a plot of land near the fence where they had spoken.
“Before that, I met Levi Shepherd.” She clicked on the McBride website to show the sun-kissed face of the IT head. “He’s hoping to purchase some land and build cabins on it. Do fishing tours and such.”
“Did you tell your Uncle Thomas about him?”
“Not yet.”
“Well, don’t.” Madeline waved a hand at her. “He’ll marry you off to this guy just to get the inside scoop on the trout runs in the area.”
She chuckled and typed in the next name before she tilted the screen to give her friend a view of the man’s picture. “Digger was the owner of the New Orleans creative arts group. You should see the building where they study and perform.”
“He works with kids all over the city, right?”
She nodded and tapped on the keys again. “Then there was this surfer dude, Talon.” A picture popped up from some advertisement for Diana’s Bistro. “He looks like he should live in California instead of Alabama.”
“And so nice. His goal is to honor his deceased mom by continuing her dream.”
“Wow.” Madeline stared at her. “These men are … good. Really good. Noble even. How did you find so many unattached, amazing men?”
“I haven’t finished.” She grinned and searched for the next guy. “Uncle Thomas fell for Gabe because he took us fishing.” She clicked on the Gator Farm’s website, but the only image was a blurry distant one.
“He’s the fellow in Florida?”
“Mm-hmm. And get this, he visits a nursing home in his spare time and sings with them while he plays the guitar.”
“No way.”
She giggled and searched for the Montoya website. “And I should have looked up this photo before I got there.” She turned the screen. “He teased me when I took him for a chauffeur.”
Madeline pursed her lips. “That’s rather unprofessional.”
“But funny. And he was nothing if not charming. Oh, and had a huge family.”
She shifted to Landon Gates. His Facebook profile picture showed him with a grinning Kaili. “And Landon trains and hires young people with special needs to work at his family resort.”
Mercy was beginning to grasp her friend’s doubt. These men, all of them, cared so much about the land, the people around them, and the Lord.
“You already know Dustin, but did you know that his deepest desire is to prove that a man with integrity and godliness can be a successful executive?”
“I had an idea he was pretty deep underneath his easy smile, but I didn’t know the details.” Madeline shook her head. “I was teasing with you, Mercy, but seriously. The Lord has placed some amazing men into your path. Any one of them are worthy of your interest from the sound of it.”
She stood and strolled to the doorway. “Maybe you should consider these men more carefully. I know you’re unwilling to jump into a dating scene, but staying in contact would be natural and not too hard to initiate.”
Pausing in the hallway, she poked her head back inside. “It’s worth a thought.”
Mercy met her eyes. No laughter in them now. She was right. Each of these trips held so much more than simple choices for Lacewell Limited’s acquisitions.
Each of the men she’d met touched her in some way. Some had inspired her with their sensitivity or vision. Others had drawn her into friendships that she’d like to continue.
But one had stirred a great admiration, even affection. How could she share her feelings? And if she did muster the courage, could he possibly reciprocate?

From the Authors of Unlikely Merger

Friday, June 19

Thursday, June 18

Marji Laine: Shake It Up

Wednesday, June 17

Marji Laine:  No Joy in Mudville

Tuesday, June 16

Monday, June 15

Marji Laine:  Ain't Nothin' Easy

Saturday, June 13

A Dozen ApologiesAvailable on Kindle

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