Time to get our game faces on.
As we approach the table, everyone stands, and the introductions are made all around. Maybe it’s because I’m watching Mr. Lavin so closely that I see how his eyes follow Mya after she shakes his hand and then walks around the table to greet the other members of his team. She knows all of their names, as do I. Then she takes a seat right next to me.
Before I can even sit down, James is already ordering a scotch from the waitress. Then I see why.
Elizabeth is sitting two tables away.
She raises her glass of wine in our direction. I turn to see James give a begrudging wave. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed her yet, but she’s already accomplished her goal. There’s no way James can focus completely on the client tonight with his ex-wife sitting right in his line of vision.
“Thank you all for traveling to meet with me. I’ve had this week scheduled with potential investors for months, so it’s been helpful that you could come to me while I’m already in the States.”
“When do you go back to Italy?” Wallace asks. “I follow you on Instagram. You guys, his page is lit. Fast cars, beautiful clothes. You’re living the dream, man.” He sighs before digging into his salad course enthusiastically.
Andre just laughs. “Thank you. This is our goal, to be as the kids say, fire. Why is all of the American slang centered around temperature, I wonder? It used to be that things were cool, now they’re hot, fire, bomb or lit. Fascinating. I have an entire team of people who study the social media trends.”
James looks like he has no idea what is happening. But I strongly suspect that Wallace in his own unique, bumbling way has just broken the ice for us.
Well, if he’s broken the ice, I might as well jump in first. “Mirage employs a lot of talented young designers. It’s why our ad campaigns are so on trend. We combine years of experience in understanding what makes people buy with the fresh perspective of different generations.”
Mya grins over at me. “Wallace is on Milo’s team. He’s been with us for almost a year now and graduated from Columbia with honors. He’s also an amateur photographer and is pretty popular on Instagram, too.”
I glance over at her. He is? How does she know all that? Maybe there is something to paying attention in those bullshit icebreaker sessions at work after all.
Wallace looks shocked, too. “My account has nowhere near the numbers some of my friends have, but I just passed ten thousand.”
Mr. Lavin actually looks impressed. “That’s quite an accomplishment, especially for a hobbyist.” He clears his throat. “I’m happy to meet with you all in person after hearing about you from Mr. Lawson.”
James gives him a tight smile. “I’m extremely proud of my team.”
“It shows,” Andre replies.
Dinner proceeds with the typical pleasantries. Wallace looks a little confused, but I can only pray the kid can hold his tongue. With these types of clients, you never rush right into business. You need to woo them, almost like a woman you’re trying to convince to come back to your place after dinner. She’s not just going to come with you if you ask within the first ten minutes. She needs you to show her that you’re worth her time. Are you going to savor her the same way you do the ten-inch porterhouse on your plate? Or will you rush through the act like a kid scarfing down an ice cream cone?
I can’t imagine a man like Andre Lavin scarfing anything. He needs to see that we’re not only the best team to take over his marketing but also that we’re people he can work with.
We need him to like us.
As the waitress is clearing the entrees, Andre looks around the table with satisfaction. “Perhaps it is old-fashioned, but I care to meet with any agencies that work on our marketing directly. It’s important that the people crafting our image understand what we’re about here at Lavin Fashions.”
Everyone instantly ceases their side conversations and pays attention. Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The reason we’re all here.
“What is your vision of Lavin Fashions, Mr. Lavin?” Mya asks. “I’ve read the official company mission statement, but I would love to hear it from you.”
“Please, call me Andre.”
The way he’s looking at her makes it seem like he just wants to hear her say his name. My hand sitting on top of the table curls into a fist. It’s unsettling that this bothers me. He’s just a client, throwing a little charm at the pretty ad executive. I’ve seen it plenty of times, and I’ve had my fair share of clients, male and female, attempt to flirt with me.
None of those made me want to growl in frustration. Or made me worry that Mya might actually want to flirt back.
“It’s much more than just the clothes,” Andre begins after a brief pause. “Our brand creates the garments that become part of people’s memories. And for our newest venture, we’re looking for a partner that understands the importance of family, friendship, love.”
The woman sitting next to him sniffs. Cristiane Laveque. From my research on the Lavin team, I know that she’s a top designer for Lavin Fashions.
“Apologies, but this is not a strength of American companies, we have found. So few understand l’amore.” She shakes her head ruefully as if the vulgar ways of the American market are just too much.
Mentally, I’m rolling my eyes, but this could be a real obstacle to winning their business. If they think that we’re not cultured enough, it will be difficult to change that opinion. Granted, Mirage does plenty of “American” commercials and brands, but it’s not like we’re all racecars and beer. We have plenty of upper-echelon brands in the jewelry, hotel and entertainment industries.
“I believe Mirage can handle anything. We have such a diverse workforce that all of our clients find someone they can relate to. We also have more women in leadership roles than many of our competitors.”
Maybe that’ll calm her fears that we don’t get l’amore. Mya in particular handles a lot of brands that cater to women, including a high-profile lingerie line.
Andre sits back in his chair and seems to be considering her words. “I must admit we’ve been approached by other firms that are run by people who are married. They understand what brides want.”
James sits up straighter. “So, it is a bridal line?”
Andre laughs lightly. “Yes, the rumors are true. Lavin Fashions will introduce a new line called Lavin Bridal next year. It will be a separate division of the company which is why I’m meeting with investors. I didn’t want word to get out until it was all finalized.”
James looks like he’s going to be sick. This is why Elizabeth has been so smug. She must have heard the Lavin group wanted someone who has been through the process of planning a wedding. Just another way for her to rub her recent marriage in James’s face.
“I’m sure all the women on our team have mentally planned their dream wedding, even if they aren’t married.” I send a panicked glance at Mya.
This would be a really good fucking time for her to pipe in with some story of how she’s been dreaming of her wedding dress since she was a little girl.
Unfortunately, Andre seems to be following my line of thought because he turns directly to Mya, too. “If you were planning a wedding, for example,” he says, “wouldn’t you want a wedding planner who was married?”
Mya pauses with her water glass halfway to her mouth. “Well, yes. I suppose I would.”
James just blinks. Wallace pauses mid-chew with a piece of iceberg lettuce hanging from his lip. The whole table seems stunned into silence. She didn’t mean to say that, and everyone can see it on her face. But in a rare, caught-off-guard moment, Mya has done the unforgivable.
She’s been honest.
An awkward silence descends over the table. James takes another gulp from his scotch. Across from me, members of the Lavin team exchange significant glances before taking an interest in their plates. Worst of all, Andre Lavin just looks amused.
While Mya looks devastated.
You know how sometimes you can look back and identify the precise moment you fucked up? Well, later tonight I’m sure I’ll be remembering the exact second I pushed us all off the cliff together.
“I agree,” I state loudly.
James chokes slightly, and Wallace pounds him on the back. I ignore his panicked look and keep my eyes on Mr. Lavin.
“I agree with Mya,” I repeat in case anyone at the table missed it the first time I pushed my career in front of a bus. “Having a married wedding planner would be great. Although I’d be more concerned about the people actually doing the work. That’s really what sets Mirage apart.”
By now, everyone is staring at me, especially James, probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this.
Mya, however, is watching me with a small, tremulous smile on her face. Like she can’t believe that I’m backing her up right now. And damn if that smile isn’t what does me in. Because I don’t just bet on distracting Mr. Lavin; I double down and take it all the way to the bank.
“Mirage is really the best fit for anything to do with weddings. After all, it’s the only agency I know with two team leads that are in love and engaged to be married.” I turn to Mya and whisper, “Just go with it.”
Then I tilt my head slightly and brush my lips over hers.
Mess with Me / The Mirage Agency
Not sure what I did in my past life but it must have been bad…
Because the only woman I want is the devil. My co-worker. My rival. And my only competition for the biggest ad account this side of the Atlantic.
Our client wants a marketing executive that understands the wedding industry so I’m suddenly pretending to be engaged to a woman who hates me AND would gladly put my balls in her purse. But after I discover she’s never taken a trip to O-town, I’m determined to prove myself to more than just the client.
And somewhere along the way, I discover that winning isn’t enough.
A completely inappropriate romantic comedy. Side effects may include clutching your pearls and laughing until you almost choke. Now a USA TODAY bestseller!