There are many things that I’m willing to do for family. Several things cross my mind that I’ve done in the past, things I’m not particularly proud of and that are one foot over the line into illegal territory.
But as I listen to my brother Zack, I’m seriously considering rethinking my stance on family loyalty.
“She’s a friend of Emma’s. Finn wants me to help her with setting up her business. Mentoring if you will,” Zack explains.
His desperation suddenly makes sense. Emma, our brother Tank’s girlfriend, has all of us wrapped neatly around her pinky finger but Finn is particularly fond of her.
“So let me see if I understand correctly. Finn asks you for a favor and you want to pawn it off on me? Nice.”
Zack chuckles. “Oh come on. You know I’m not good with shit like this. You’re the one who handles the customers at the shop. It shouldn’t take that long, maybe a few afternoons explaining how to get started. Showing her the paperwork she needs to file. You know, stuff like that.”
I shift my cell phone to my other shoulder. “Do you really think I’m the best person to be a mentor? Wouldn’t she be more comfortable with someone she knows? And why the hell didn’t Finn ask me to do it?”
Zack snorts. “He knows how you are with women. I’m sure he doesn’t want his female friends anywhere near you. Look, he’s going to set up a meeting but I figure I can just claim to be sick and send you in my place. Finn won’t know until after the fact.”
I groan and look impatiently to the long ass line I’ve been standing in for what feels like forever. Zack is lucky he caught me when I’m feeling generous.
Whoever this poor girl is, if I don’t agree, she’s going to have to suffer through an afternoon with Zack grunting and scowling. Standing in the local business office reminds me of when I was first starting out and had no one to help me. The least I can do is pay it forward, especially to help out a friend of a friend.
“Ok, I’ll do it. But I’m only committing to a few days and then after that she’s on her own.”
“Awesome. I’ll let Finn know to set up the meeting. Thanks. I’ll owe you one.”
I hang up and slip my cell phone back into the inner pocket of my suit jacket. Today I’ve dressed the part in a simple two-button pinstripe that never fails to convey responsible business owner.
The auto garage that Zack and I own has been doing really well for a few years now. He’s been trying to convince me to open another location for six months. Since most of the counties in Virginia require you to appear in person to gain a business license, I’ve been putting it off. But after running reports and seeing the proof in black and white that our business has been on a steady increase for the past year, I finally agreed.
But as the voices of the women in front of me increase, so does my feeling that I should have waited longer to tackle this particular issue. Preferably when we were big enough to be a corporation and I could designate someone else to handle these sorts of things.
“This is the wrong form. You need an application for a business license, not a liquor license.”
The woman behind the counter looks like she’s rapidly losing patience. With her gray hair and oversized glasses, she reminds me of a teacher I once had.
If this lady is anything like Miss Rosings, then all the explanations in the world aren’t going to cut it.
The girl at the counter is apparently fearless. Or reckless. Her voice rises in what is starting to sound like hysteria.
“But that can’t be right! The last time I was here, the man told me I needed a liquor license. I downloaded all this and filled it out and now you’re telling me this is wrong again?”
“Ma’am, you do need a liquor license. This is just the wrong place to submit that. This is where you get your business license. Did you bring the form for that?”
“No, I thought this was what I needed.”
The Miss Rosings lookalike hands a sheaf of forms over the desk. “Fill those out and then bring them back. Next!”
“But wait a minute—”
I can feel the tension rising in the room. This is the last time I volunteer to handle the paperwork just to spare Zack. Normally we share the administrative hassles but I wanted to escape the office.
When I made the decision a few years back to go straight, I knew I’d have to get used to a more sedate life. Being a responsible law-abiding citizen is by definition less exciting but it’s also safer. There’s no worries about who might be after me or whether I’ll get caught up in something.
I’m proud of the atmosphere Zack and I have created at the shop. We have fun most of the time. We have a great group of guys and Jim and the crew are like family.
But every day it’s the same thing.
Every night it’s the same thing.
Sometimes the need for excitement has me feeling like I want to crawl out of my skin. Or scream.
More than anything I just want something to surprise me.
The guy in front of me makes a frustrated noise and puts his hands on his head. I can’t see much of the girl at the counter, just a riot of long black curls and an oversized black coat. But she doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere.
I lean forward. “Sweetheart, you’re holding up the line.”
“Did you just call me sweetheart?”
She whips around and the rest of whatever else I was about to say gets trapped in the back of my throat.
Golden brown skin. Full, pouty lips. Whiskey-colored eyes framed by long lashes. Big innocent eyes. She looks like Bambi. From her husky voice I was expecting a much older woman, not this fiery little thing shooting daggers at me with her eyes.
Now this is a surprise.
By the time my brain makes sense of what she’s said, I open my mouth to say something but nothing comes out. While she’s distracted, the guy in front of me pushes past and drops a big file folder on the counter.
Bambi looks over at him and then sends me another glare. Then she clutches the papers to her chest and walks out, the glass door to the office swinging shut behind her. A sheet of paper floats behind her and lands in the hallway.
I glance up front again at the guy’s overflowing folder. Then I turn and walk out, pausing only to pick up the piece of paper she dropped. I read the top of the form.
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
It’s an application for a liquor license, filled out with her name, business name, address—the works.
The dramatic swipe of her signature fits her.
My hand clenches around the form. Although it’s doubtful she’ll thank me, I follow her outside. I definitely don’t want anyone else to pick this up. Any psycho could have found this.
Or a guy like me which isn’t much better.
I jog slightly to catch up with her in the parking lot. She’s bent over, shoving her things onto the passenger seat of an ancient Volvo. I wince when she closes the door and it lets out a screeching sound.
When she turns around, I’m startled at the tear tracks on her face. She wipes at them hastily with the back of her hand.
“Please tell me I didn’t make you cry.”
That coaxes a small smile from her lips. “No, it wasn’t you. In case you couldn’t tell I’m having a fantastic day.”
“Well, good. I honestly wasn’t trying to be patronizing. I was trying to warn you not to provoke the warden in there. She doesn’t look like the sympathetic type.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Her words aren’t even bitter, more resigned. She seems sad now.
I hold out the paper she dropped. “You’ll need this. It needs to be submitted at the ABC. You can mail it though. You only have to appear in person for the business license.”
“Really?” She takes the paper hesitantly. “Thank you. This whole thing is so confusing and I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. Probably because I am.”
“I could look over your forms for you. I know a bit about owning a small business. I can probably save you from the most obvious mistakes.”
It doesn’t escape my notice that I’m volunteering to help her when Zack had to beg me to do this for Finn’s friend. The universe must be rewarding me because I’ll definitely tutor Bambi in anything she wants to learn.
She looks doubtful. “I don’t even know you.”
“Not to point out the obvious but I’ve already seen all your information. If I was a stalker, I wouldn’t have given that back.”
Her laugh animates her entire face, making her eyes sparkle.
“I suppose that’s true. But just because you aren’t a stalker doesn’t mean you aren’t trouble. And I’ve had enough of trouble.”
She turns to go again and I’m suddenly gripped with panic. I don’t know what’s come over me but I can’t just let her leave.
“Trouble can be fun.” I give her my most charming smile, the one that Zack calls the moneymaker. “Give me a chance to prove that.”
She sighs, the sound so weary it should be coming from someone three times her age.
“You don’t need to prove anything Calvin Klein. I can see right through you. I can probably tell you what you ate for breakfast.”
She crosses her arms and looks up at me, her eyes fixed on my face.
“You’re gorgeous and you know you are. It’s something you use to your advantage. But there are times when it’s not to your advantage so you try to tone it down, such as with those glasses you’re wearing.”
Stunned, my hand reaches up to touch the clear frames I wore this morning to make myself look older. It’s something I only do when I need to appear on behalf of the business.
“I bet you don’t even wear glasses,” she continues. “A guy with cheekbones like yours wouldn’t want anything obscuring the view of his perfect face. I bet you had laser eye surgery and you just wear those glasses because they make you look intellectual. They also save you from the envy of the men around you because they’ll either dismiss you as a nerdy type or assume you’re gay and not their competition.”
I stand as she neatly dissects me, ticking off each point on her fingers.
“I’ve dated pretty men like you before so I’ve already seen this show. I’m not impressed by flattery or whatever line you’re currently thinking up. You’re probably not even listening right now because you’re thinking of how to sweet talk me.”
I’m stunned again because she’s right. In the middle of her rant, I was only half paying attention because I was trying to think of what to say to calm her down.
As I stand in front of her, the entirety of who I am exposed as if she’d ripped my seams open, I can’t think of a single thing to say in my own defense.
Not a single thing.
“Goodbye, pretty boy.”
She rounds the car and climbs behind the wheel while I stand gaping at her. Once inside, she puts on her seat belt and then pulls out slowly. I watch until her taillights turn right on the main road and she disappears.
Once she’s gone, I’m able to clear the cobwebs from my brain and suddenly I can move again.
What the hell was that?
I let out a breath and turn in circles, looking around the parking lot as if the asphalt can give me answers.
The first time I meet a woman who can see past all of my bullshit and she wants nothing to do with me.
Inheriting billions from the father they never knew sounds pretty sweet. Until they find out what he really wants in exchange.
Tank : Fake Dating the billionaire’s son should have been easy. He’s a bad boy and not my type. But he’s also loyal and kind with an unexpected soft spot for rescue cats. Suddenly all I want is for this “fake” love to be real.
Finn : When she left me, I had nothing. Now I have it all: money, cars and most importantly, power. She’s struggling to save her business, and I’m in the perfect position to save it. For a price.
Gabe : She thinks I’m arrogant and cocky as hell. She’s right. A reformed con artist and a perfect little princess don’t belong together. But I still can’t leave her alone.
Zack : She’s my brother’s ex. Off limits. But she needs a nude model for her show so I’m taking one for the team. Turns out she needs more than just my picture…
Luke : My online BFF is the only hacker better than I am. Then I’m asked to consult on a hacking case for the FBI and the hauntingly beautiful suspect seems to know a lot about me. Things I’ve only told one other person…
Blue-Collar Christmas : Emma has a plan to bring the high-rolling billionaire Marshall brothers back to their roots with the perfect blue-collar Christmas. But as presents go off course and secrets are revealed, it turns out the “perfect” Christmas has a price tag no one expected…
~ a USA TODAY bestseller ~
Life can be unpredictable. I thought I had it all worked out. I was going to win America’s favorite talent show and then go on to fame and fortune.
Reality didn’t quite work out that way.
After being humiliated on national television, all I have left is my dream of opening a jazz lounge. But I’m not a businesswoman and no one has time to help me… except the last man I would ever trust.
I am a good guy. I help little old ladies cross the street. I recycle. Anyone looking at me will see a solid, respectable, businessman.
Not the charming con artist I used to be.
Now I’m heir to a billionaire father I never knew and everyone gives me what I want. Except Sasha Whitman. She’s the only one who can see through my game and the first woman to make me want to stop playing.