I’m the owner of a très successful fast-food chain. I’m still not sure how it happened other than I was tired of fried everything or carb laden so-called healthy options. Next thing I knew, I’d become an entrepreneur, president of a corporation that sold franchises of my fast food and blundered my way into a whirlwind of fame and fortune. I was also a fraud because seriously, how does a college drop out end up running the fastest growing fast-food chain in the country? I’m the empress, the queen, the supreme ruler of Chic Cuisine (Choose Healthy Instead of Crap). Our menu grows daily, but our most popular dishes are lemon chicken on jasmine rice or stir fry vegetables with your choice of meats, tofu, and rice (price varies depending on options). I have staff, a lof of staff. I don’t know what half of them do. I’ve got a team of lawyers doing lawyer-y things. Basically, I’ve collected a whole lot of smart people over the past couple of years, and they’re the ones who’ve made Chic Cuisine what it is now. I’m just the lazy chick who was tired of eating grease every day.
“When will you be back in the office?” My secretary (yes, I have my own secretary, and she’s a living, breathing person, not an AI thing in my pocket) demanded as I left my office (and yes, I’ve got a huge office with two windows and a ping pong table hidden by a fancy sheet in the corner).
I froze, my mind whirling. Marcy looked nothing like my mother (Marcy’s a stunning brunette, Mom’s a chunky dirty blonde), but she still had the knack for making me feel like I was a bad girl skipping out on my homework. “Uh, tomorrow? About ten?”
Marcy sniffed her displeasure. “Where shall I say you are if Mr. Quartermain calls again?”
I stared at Marcy helplessly. Who? “You’ll figure something out, you always do.”
Marcy tapped her keyboard with her perfectly manicured hands. “I’m not sure I can keep him calm much longer. You’ve been avoiding him for three weeks.”
I sighed, sitting on the edge of Marcy’s desk. “Right. Well, schedule him in for tomorrow at eleven. What does he want, anyhow?”
Marcy’s eyes opened so wide I could see the whites all the way around the brown. “Seriously?”
“Give me a hint.”
“Marshall Quartermain is the head of your legal team. The one who saves you from lawsuits, from liability claims, basically, he’s kept you from going broke for the past year.”
I grinned, snapping my fingers. “Old guy with the fluffy cloud hair!”
Marcy nodded stiffly. “Yes. He says it’s urgent that he talks to you about the franchise expansions.”
Relief flooded me. “Get Doug to meet with him today. Doug’s one of the brains behind the scenes, he’s good at making decisions. Or, if Doug’s tied up, Duncan or one of the others.”
“You’re sure?” Marcy shook her head. “You’re not even curious about what Mr. Quartermain has to say?”
“Not in the least.” I stood, stretching.
“Very well.” Marcy picked up the phone and dialled someone. I waved as I slid out of the president’s area and took the private elevator to the underground lot. Free at last. That had been the longest four hours of my life.
I parked my car in the back of the restaurant. Daphne’s jalopy was here already, but I wouldn’t know if Liz or Blanche were here until I went in because they took the bus. I grabbed my purse and slid out of the Prius. Not my first choice for a car, I wanted an SUV, but my PR guy insisted I get either a Tesla or a Prius to keep up the image. What image? I just wanted healthier choices on the go.
I blinked several times when I got inside, trying to adjust to the dim interior. The hostess smiled a welcome, but before she could speak someone started shouting.
“Vicky, over here.” I shrugged at the hostess as I went over to the table where Liz and the rest of my friends were seated. “Why are you late? Did you have to sign off on some stock deal or something?”
I glared at Liz. “I’m not late. You’re early. And no, I was playing solitaire and lost track of time.”
Daphne snorted as she grabbed an herbed biscuit out of the basket in the middle of the table. “Glad you’re working hard unlike the rest of us lazy bums.”
Blanche bristled. “I am not lazy. I had two doodles and a long haired chihuahua waiting when I got in. Then a long-haired cat came in needing to be shaved because her fur was so matted.”
“Yeah, speak for yourself, Daph. I had to send one of the senior’s off in an ambulance because she fell over and broke her hip doing a warm up stretch. Then I had to sit down to negotiate a new lease for the studio.” Liz grabbed a biscuit and bit in aggressively.
“Okay, fine, I’m the only lazy bum. All I’ve done is chat on the phone with entitled Canadians who want better internet service for their dollar. Do you know one guy actually told me that he wanted proof that we weren’t spying on him, recording his Google searches?” Daphne shook her head as she picked up her water. “I asked my supervisor if I should start an investigation because he was so convinced we were tracing his online footprints.”
“Probably high and been Googling food.” I took a roll and nibbled. How many carbs? Who cared, they were the best herb and garlic rolls in the world.
“I hope so, but I flagged him just in case.” Daphne sipped her water. “So, how’s Ms. Moneybags?”
I hated the digs about my success. I hadn’t foreseen this, hadn’t planned this. “You could’ve joined me, you know. Still can, anytime.”
“Riiight,” Liz rolled her eyes. “Chic Cuisine could start up an exercise while you wait trend. I can see it now – Liz’s line of exercises to do while you wait for your tofu salad.”
“And I could start up a whole new definition of doggy bags. Specially prepared food for your fido, and the take-out bags can double as poop and scoop bags.” Blanche giggled at the thought.
“I guess I could head up the telephone hotline. You know, for the panicked callers who need to know if they just had five or six hundred calories, and how many grams of fat.” Daphne smiled.
“Don’t forget net carbs,” I added, shaking my head. “Who knew so many people were just waiting for sauteed vegetables in a hurry?”
“Seems kind of a sham, to be dining at a steak and seafood place.” Blanche glanced around the room. “I bet none of these people have ever had anything juiced but clamato for the caesars.”
The waitress appeared with a wide smile and mile-high teased hair. “Can I get you anything?”
“How about a menu?” Blanche raised an eyebrow.
The waitress frowned. “Oh, my bad. Can I get you ladies a drink while I grab the menus?”
Blanche nodded as she ordered for each of us. “And hurry. Some of us have to get back to work.”
When the waitress left to get our drinks, Daphne sighed. “I’m done for the day.”
“Must be nice. I’ve got a class coming in at six. Five-to-ten-year olds, for yoga. The room will smell like farts within ten minutes, and I won’t be able to get them to stop giggling. Then I’ve got the beginner adults. They’re not much better than the kids.” Liz picked up another roll.
“I’ve got the girls doing the rest of the appointments while I run out to the accountant. Here’s hoping we show a profit this month.” Blanche crossed her fingers.
My phone vibrated and I glanced at the display. Marcy. I hit do not disturb. “Sorry.”
“Probably need you to taste test the newest health shake.” Liz grinned. “Or have they finally nailed the apple-cinnamon smoothie?”
I squared my shoulders as I took the menu the waitress offered. “That was one of our first releases. We’ve got most of the drinks worked out, for those that want a drive-thru juiced blend or protein shake. Even have the line-ups down. There’s like a dark chocolate something or other for around Easter, Cinnamon-something for October, Peppermint and ginger options for Christmas. Now we’re figuring out desserts.”
“What, how to make a kale cake?” Daphne snorted, sipping her pop.
“Flour-less and sugar-free fruit cake? I can save you the trouble – chop up some melon and strawberries, put it in a bowl, and cover.” Blanche sipped her coffee. “You could get really fancy and drizzle bitter chocolate over it.”
“Count me out then. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from trying the 90% cacao chocolate Vicky tricked me with last time we taste tested.” Liz picked up her tea and sipped.
I felt my temper rising. They acted like I was this health food guru girl who wouldn’t let milk chocolate touch my lips, but the truth was, I was still the same person who got movie popcorn and Twizzlers when we went to the movies. I’d just been sick of fries, subs, and pizza as my only fast lunch options. “You guys were on board when I first started Chic Cuisine.”
Daphne leaned across the table to pat my hand. “We still are. We’re just teasing you, keeping you real.”
I pulled my hand free as I sat back. “You guys act like I’ve changed, but I haven’t. I have no interest in the inner workings. I still don’t even know how this happened. I’m still the girl grilling chicken in the food court and struggling to make enough to pay the rent to the property people at the mall.”
Blanche rolled her eyes. “Except you could buy the mall now.”
I pushed my chair back. “I offered you. I asked you guys if you wanted to help me start my little business, but you said you’d rather die than work in the food court. Then, when they approached me about going bigger, I asked you if you wanted to form a company with me, and you all said no. Now you do nothing but make fun of it, of me?”
I walked as fast as I could to the washroom, hoping like hell I wasn’t crying yet. Anger and hurt roiled with a dollop of self pity swirling through the mix. I grabbed a wad of toilet paper as soon as I went into the washroom and leaned against the sink, staring at my reflection. I still got my hair done by Judy, the same blonde highlights in my dirty blonde hair that I’d been getting since high school. I still bought my make-up at the same store in the same mall I’d opened my first Chic Cuisine. I’d added a couple of new stores for the professional clothes I had to wear for certain things, but my fancy dresses were from the same stores I’d always shopped at. I still endured family dinners at my parent’s house every Sunday – I say endured because I was usually hung over from partying with the three women I’d just run off on.
The bathroom door opened and I slid into the stall before looking to see if it was friend or foe – though at this point, I wasn’t sure there was a difference between the distinctions.
“Come on out, Vic, it’s me.” Daphne thumped on the stall door.
“Go away.” I sniffed, dabbing my eyes.
“Don’t make me shimmy under the door the way I did two weeks ago when you locked yourself in the stall, drunk.”
“We both had to shimmy out because the lock was broken. I wasn’t that drunk.” I opened the door as I stepped out.
“True,” Daphne grinned. “But you broke the lock.”
I flipped her the bird as I leaned against the counter. “What do you want?”
“In. And don’t worry about Liz and Blanche, they’re just jealous. They don’t want to ride your fame and glory, they’re just jealous that you stumbled into a pit of gold while they’re struggling to make their dreams come true.”
“What does that mean?” I knew what Daphne meant but I was just cranky enough to play petulant child.
“Which part? The part where I’m asking for a job, or the part where I’m telling you that Liz and Blanche are struggling because they’re jealous of and happy for you and don’t know how to deal with the conflicting emotions?” Daphne leaned against the wall across from me and crossed her arms over her chest.
I felt my forehead crease as I considered. “You want a job? Do you want to head up PR, Marketing, HR? Name your department, it’s yours. Or at least half, because I’ve got some good people in there already.”
Daphne shook her head, laughing. “I’m not equipped to do any of that. I can do customer service calls, stuff like that.”
Frustration rose up again and I punched the counter behind me. “That’s what I’m saying – I’m not equipped for any of this either. But here I am, President, or CEO, or whatever my title is. With people running everything for me because I don’t have the first clue how to do it myself. Even my secretary understands more than I do – and wants to know more. She should be my boss.”
“So? Stop doing it. Sell it, step down, whatever. After you get me a job answering phones somewhere.”
I shrugged. “I still want a say in what Chic Cuisine is, what they do next, I just don’t understand the ins and outs, the bigger and more tedious stuff. When everyone started hounding me to sell, I was fielding offers from everywhere. If it weren’t for a few good people jumping in to help, I’d still be slogging away at the mall. The bottom line is that I didn’t want to sell to anyone because they were talking about adding stuff that’s already out there to the menu. Cutting back on the healthy in favour of bigger profits. That’s the only reason I go in every day – to make sure the roots stay the same.”
“Why don’t you go back to working the original location then?” Daphne shrugged.
“Honestly? I didn’t love it. I just hated the same food every day, or rather, the same lousy choices. And the only reason I’m still doing this is like I said – I want to control what’s on the menu board. I love the way it is now – vegan, vegetarian, low carb, keto friendly choices. Something for everyone and not a deep fryer in sight. I dragged my heels over the juicing thing but then realized I was being dumb and let that happen, but I put my foot down on the totally vegan suggestion.”
“Vicky, Vicky –” Blanche swung through the door, her hand on her chest. “There’s that very good-looking guy looking for you. Liz just waved him over while I came to get you.”
I groaned. “Mark or Luke? Got to be Luke, Mark’s not that good looking.”
Blanche and Daphne pushed me out of the washroom while I kept mumbling under my breath. “Can’t even go to lunch with my friends, what’s so important, anyhow?”
Liz was alone at the table. I scanned the restaurant, but didn’t see Mark, Luke, or anyone remotely handsome enough to fluster Blanche. I sat down and picked up my water.
“There you are!”
I heard the deep voice, saw Liz’s hands smoothing her hair. The glass slipped from my fingers and hit the ground – after spewing the contents all over the table and my lap. “Duncan.”
“Vic – er, Ms. Carter? We need to go.” I saw the twinkle in his gray eyes as he used my last name. I wished I could think of something witty to say, but I just stared at him. His dimple winked in his cheek, and I was sure he was laughing behind the cool, professional mask. “Now.”
Duncan was – what was he? Vice President, I guess. Between him and Doug, everything was handled and ran the way it should without any help from me. “I’m just having lunch.”
“Something more urgent has come up.” Duncan grabbed the cloth napkin and started to wipe my pants then seemed to think better of it when he almost touched my wet crotch. He passed the napkin to me to clean myself.
“Daphne, call me later. Sorry to run out, girls.” I winked at Daphne and shot a cool smile at the other two. We hadn’t even ordered yet – let them pay for their own drinks and food if they wanted to stay.
I followed Duncan out of the restaurant. “What’s up?”
Duncan headed for my Prius. “I’ll explain on the way.”
I paused outside the car. “Where’s your car?”
“Doug dropped me off on the condition that I brought you back to the office. I figured me coming to get you was better than a wailing Doug.”
I slid into the car and waited for Duncan to get in. “Why’s Doug wailing?”
“You haven’t signed a bunch of contracts and papers that have to be filed by today.” Duncan slid the seat back before doing up his seatbelt. “Don’t you ever go in your inbox?”
What inbox? “That’s what I have you and Doug for.”
“Some things you have to deal with yourself, you know.” Duncan grinned as I pulled out on the street.
“Why? I hired you and Doug, Mark, Luke, and Cassandra so I didn’t have to do the boring stuff.” I honked at the taxi that cut in front of me.
“You’re the one who opted to stay in control – rightfully so, so don’t bite my head off – so that means there are certain things that only you can do.” Duncan drummed his fingers on his leg. “Everything passes through one of us first, but the final say is still yours and you haven’t been keeping up your end.”
I signalled to turn into the underground lot and stopped to wait for the long line of cars to pass. “You guys must think I’m so dumb. I can only imagine what you say when I’m not around.”
Duncan stared at me and I felt heat on the back of my neck so I turned my attention back to the traffic. “Marshall gets the most annoyed, and Doug. Doug because he’s terrified he’s going to make a bad decision and you’ll put nerdy little man on the menu. Marshall’s used to corporate snakes and cut-throat business types, so he doesn’t get your whole ‘meh, whatever’ attitude.”
I started to turn. “Marshall is the old guy with the hair like a cloud, right?”
“Yes.” Duncan snorted out a laugh. “Better than the Einstein description, but not much.”
I parked the car and we walked over to the elevators. I called it my private elevator because there were three together at the main entrance, and a single one here. Chic Cuisine took up the whole seventh floor. Mark had been talking about getting us more space but I loved where we were.
Duncan pressed the button as I put my pass back in my pocket. “What’s going on, for real, Vicky?”
I watched the numbers above the doors marking our progress. “I hate this. I am not this person.”
Duncan’s eyes filled with compassion. “I know. I went to school for four years to be this guy, but I’m still over my head half the time.”
We strode past Marcy who was on the phone and I let us into my office. “Yeah, well, at least you graduated. I dropped out of college because I hated the medical secretary course. I’m a fraud – I still eat pizza, burgers, just not every day.”
I dropped into the cozy seating area next to the ping pong table and wiped my leaking eyes. “I’m only hanging on to the title because I know if I give up control, the money people will demand more profit and not care about the same things I do. All they care about is the bottom line.”
Duncan settled in the seat next to me. “What do you want, Vicky?”
“For someone else to do the stuff, and just consult me before they make major decisions. That’s it. Oh, and to listen to me, consider my ideas, and figure out whether we can make them work or not. But I don’t want the boring stuff that comes with the control.” I bit my lip and stared at Duncan for a second. My shoulders hunched as I finally admitted the truth to myself. “That’s not true. I want to understand this stuff. To understand what all these heads of whatever do, why Marshall always looks like the company is about to collapse at any minute when we’re making profits and selling franchises for as much as established chains.”
“Start showing an interest then. Show up for meetings, stop letting everyone just dismiss you when you aren’t sure what’s going on.” Duncan patted my damp leg. “At least let me teach you the basics, so you don’t get that glassy look in your eyes when the topic goes into foreign territory.”
I sat up straight. “Would you? Teach me?”
Duncan stood up and went to a bin on my desk, grabbed a huge stack of papers and a pen from the cat shaped cup Blanche had given me for Christmas five years ago. “Let’s start with signing these, then we’ll get to the crash course.”
“I can always tell the ones Marcy gave me because she puts little sticky notes with arrows where I need to sign.” I scribbled my name.
“Don’t you read what you’re signing?” Duncan asked, his jaw slack. “You might’ve just agreed to sell hormone injected beef patties.”
I stuck my tongue out. “This one was about switching to compostable cups and containers.”
I glanced, signed, skimmed, signed and initialled. Duncan got up to leave. “You’re going?”
“I’ll be back in an hour unless you’re done first, then you come find me. I’ve got a couple of things to deal with before I’m done for the day.”
I watched him leave (I’m a woman, he’s got nice buns), then returned to the tedius work. Anything I didn’t understand or agree with, I put aside like I usually did. I’d get Marcy to deal with them. My pen started to run out of ink, so I shook it vigorously. Still didn’t work. I got up to grab a new one, and grabbed another stack that were in the bin beneath the papers Duncan had given me. I might as well do all the work while I was motivated.
The door to my office was ajar and I heard Doug and Marcy talking. “She’s in there? Right now? Seriously? Working?”
“Yes, Doug. Been in there for at least an hour. Mr. Reynolds brought her in like you wanted.” Marcy’s cool tone was laced with amusement.
I watched the door, and sure enough, Doug’s face peeked in at me. “What’s up, Doug?”
“I, uh, need the contract for the –”
I rifled through the signed stack. “The agreement to work with Organically Yours?”
“Um, yeah. How’d you –?”
“Marcy puts red arrow stickies to let me know its urgent.” I held up one of the arrow sticky notes I’d stuck to the table after signing.
“Right. Well, thanks.” Doug took the papers from me and was backing out of the office when a thought popped into my head.
“Who’s in charge of promotions?” I sat back, thinking of lunch.
“Depends. What are you thinking?” Doug leaned his slender frame against the wall.
“My friend, she’s got a yoga studio. That’s where I was when Duncan came to get me – meeting with her about maybe doing a line of videos or something. Still a work in progress, but I wanted to talk to –” I frowned mid exaggeration. Who? “Whoever would be in charge of that.”
“Probably best to talk to Luke, marketing’s his gig. Are you thinking of backing her? Then Marshall, or Cassandra in finance.”
I recalled everything Liz had said, and leaped. “No, we were discussing ways to pass the time waiting. We could do a short demonstration video to play on TV’s set up at the entrance, in line, at the counter waiting for food. If there’s demand for more, we could sell a series of videos to do at home, or give out a code at checkout if they want to access a video online. Kind of a ‘dollar a pose’ promotion.”
Doug clapped his hands, crumpling the papers he held. “That might be brilliant, or lame. Talk to Luke, he’ll let you know.”
“Can you –” I thought of what I’d said to Duncan. “Never mind. Just remind me to talk to him tomorrow. I’ve also been meeting with my other friend about maybe branching out to pet food. Like raw food that people can take home for their pets. The compostable doggy bags could double as scoop bags.”
Doug frowned. “Talk to Luke, Mark, everyone. Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?”
“Oh yes. What time is it?” I feigned knowledge of the meeting. It was probably in one of my unread emails.
“I’ll be there.”
Doug staggered out of my office, his hand on his heart. “See you bright and early then, boss.”
“Stop calling me that!” I shouted, grinning when I heard Doug cheering.
Another half hour passed and I’d almost finished when I heard a knock on my doorframe. I glanced up and saw Marcy staring at me. “Done for the day?”
Marcy nodded, stepping in. “What happened to you when you peed your pants?”
I blinked in confusion. “Pardon?”
Marcy pointed at her own lap. “You were a little soggy when you came in. Figured you’d peed yourself.”
“No, I spilled my water,” I grinned, feeling my thighs. “Dry now.”
“That’s all it took? For Mr. Reynolds to dump water on your lap?”
“Guess so,” I nodded. “I know you think I’m a flake, but I’m going to try to be better from now on.”
Marcy sat on the seat beside me. “I’m glad. Mr. Reynolds certainly worked his charm, or his magic, or whatever on you. This keeps up, I might win the pool.”
I frowned. “What pool?”
“There’s two, actually. If you start to take the business seriously in the next ten years, I win.”
“And if it’s longer?”
“Then I lose to Vera in HR. She’s got you down for her retiring before that happens. Everyone else had more faith.” Marcy winked.
“What’s the other pool?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. “When I’ll sell?”
Marcy studied me for several seconds. “No. No matter how bored this whole thing makes you, I know you’re determined to keep Chic Cuisine on the straight and narrow. They tried to start a pool about you taking a pay-out, but I nixed it.”
Touched, I patted Marcy’s hand. “Thanks. So what’s the pool then?”
“How long it’ll take for you and Mr. Reynolds to get together. I may be married, but I’m not dead. He’s hot, almost as hot as my husband, and we’ve all seen the way you two look at each other.”
My face warmed. “I’m sure you’re imagining things. Well, see you tomorrow.”
Marcy made no move to leave. “You want in? Five bucks he asks you out end of the year. That’s the last option left. Everyone else has already picked their choice of timelines. Just so happens, I’ve got this week. Vera got last pick, which was the week before Christmas.”
“Yes, well, put me down for never.” I picked up the next paper to sign, put it back down again. “I’ve got a friend who has been doing telemarketing stuff for a few years. Her latest job is with an internet company. She refused my offer to run communications or whatever, but do you know somewhere that would suit her that also has an opening?”
“I’ll call Vera tomorrow. Tell her to fax her resume to me, I’ll pass it to whoever Vera suggests. I’m thinking Vera will scoop her up, or pass her to Luke. They’re both looking for someone who can communicate well. Vera needs a new secretary,and Luke needs someone to field calls.”
I fished my phone out of my purse. “Here, can you text Daphne the fax number? Tell her to send her resume attention Marcy.”
“You know I’m off the clock, right?” Marcy muttered as she took my phone. I saw the ghost of a smile on her lips.
I finished signing the papers I was holding as Marcy put my phone down. “She said ‘OMG, for real? Faxing now’.”
Marcy stood up and was at the door when another thought struck. “Hey, Marcy?”
“Why do you call Duncan Mr. Reynolds, and Doug and I by our first names?”
“I call you Vicky because you threatened to fire me if I didn’t stop with that Ms. Carter BS, and –” Marcy’s face flushed. “I call Doug Doug because he’s my husband and I feel ridiculous calling him Mr. Benedict.”
Whatever I’d expected Marcy to say about Doug, it wasn’t that. “Huh.”
“What can I say? I’m a lucky woman.” Marcy turned on her heel and left me gaping after her.
I was halfway through my emails when Duncan came in. “Wow, you’re still here. I’m impressed.”
“What can I say? I’ve decided to learn.”
Duncan eyed the empty bins. “Did you put them through the shredder?”
“Ha, ha. No, they’re all in Marcy’s in-tray. She can deal with them while I’m in the meeting tomorrow morning.”
Duncan sat in one of the wing chairs across from my desk. “Wow. You’re really serious?”
“I think so. I’ve got a few things to discuss tomorrow, or should I schedule another meeting?”
“If it’s about the yoga stuff or doggy bags you mentioned to Doug, you can probably get away with dropping the news then set up meetings with everyone who needs to be involved.”
I nodded as I shut down the computer. “There’s another thing. I want to split the company, fifty-fifty.”
“With who?” Duncan frowned.
“Well, more like I’ll keep a bit higher, split the rest amongst you, Doug, Mark, Luke, Cassandra. Anyone I’m forgetting? That’s been here holding my hand and picking up my slack since we went huge?”
“Marshall will tell you to retain fifty-one percent to keep controlling interest.” Duncan shook his head. “But you’re being silly.”
“Why? Chic Cuisine would be nothing without you guys. I was the naïve and ignorant dreamer working a tiny fast food place until some corporate sharks tried to take me over. If you guys hadn’t reached out when I posted that letter to the editor with an all-call for help, I’d be lamenting that I had nothing to eat on the go but burgers, subs, pizza, or trendy processed crap.”
“This is your vision. We’re just helping you keep it real.” Duncan shrugged.
“That’s what I’m saying though. I couldn’t have fought them off without all of your help. When we met in my parent’s basement, because my tiny apartment was too small, you guys were the ones to tell me what needed to be done next. When I was overwhelmed, confused, lost, you guys picked up my slack. This company is what it is because of everyone else helping me keep it real. So, please? Let me – rather let Marshall – draw up papers for a partnership with whoever wants in. What do you say?”
Duncan stood. “If that’s what you want. But you’re not off the hook. We’re starting tonight, the crash course in learning your business.”
“You’re still willing?” I grinned as I stood and walked towards the table where my purse was.
“Of course. I must say I feel a whole lot better about asking you out now.”
I grabbed my purse from the table. “What?”
Duncan flushed. “I wasn’t actually going to ask the boss lady out yet. I’d figured out my game plan. We’d start with dinner, discussing the basics. Of course, we’d be off topic more than on, which would lead to coffee after. Then repeat tomorrow, say at lunch. Then dinner again, because we just can’t seem to keep on the subject. Oh, and just in case you were wondering? I planned my strategy with Luke months ago, just been waiting for you to get around to taking an interest. Didn’t want to weasel in with the boss, have people thinking or saying I’m only with you because you’re the owner. Didn’t want you to think I was only interested because you’re the boss. I’ve been interested since the night I met you at your parents.”
My purse slid out of my hands. “Is it insider trading if I say you have to ask me out before the week is up? Only Marcy has this week in the pool and I kinda feel I owe her.”
Duncan considered. “What week did you have?”
I big my lip. “Never.”
“Well, Doug’s been a huge help to me, only fair that I help his wife win.” Duncan’s gray eyes twinkled and his dimple winked. “Vicky, will you go out to dinner with me?”
My tummy fluttered. “Do you like steak and seafood?”
“That’s where I was when your friend ran off to get you – in the back, begging a roll off the cook.” Duncan pulled me into his arms for a hug.
“Perfect. We’ll start the crash course tomorrow night.” I winked as I studied his handsome face. Just like the first time I saw him, when he and the others answered my SOS, I felt breathless, hopeful, and just a little in love.