Here it is - excerpt number one!
I'll be back later with a shorter excerpt, and a bit about how The Girl Most Likely came to be.
Ric sat on the sofa, an ankle crossed over a knee. She winced inwardly; he was sitting on the right side, which was the one with the wonky spring. If it weren’t sticking in his butt right now, she’d be a monkey’s uncle. But he said nothing as she handed him the mug. He’d moved the cream and sugar to the oak veneer coffee table and, showing a level of comfort she envied, picked up a spoon and fixed his brew the way he preferred.
She followed his lead, sat back on the opposite side of the couch, and silence fell, full and awkward.
After a few minutes that seemed to Katie to take forever, he spoke.
“About my proposition,” he began, and Katie half turned so she could see his face.
“I’ll put up the money for start-up. Rent, equipment, supplies, permits, whatever’s required.”
“What are you terms?” Thankfully, interest rates at the moment were reasonable and Katie sucked in a breath. “How about prime plus one percent?”
“That’s not acceptable.”
Katie put down her coffee and folded her hands in her lap. She’d lowballed him on purpose. “Okay. What’s your idea of a fair repayment plan?”
He took a nonchalant sip, and countered, “No repayment plan.”
“I beg your pardon?” He couldn’t possibly mean he was giving her the money. Thousands of dollars. People didn’t just give that away. Confused, she lifted her chin and saw his lips set grimly.
“What I’m proposing, Katie, is a partnership.”
Her heart fell. No, no, no! This was not what she wanted. Turning away, she remarkably kept a tight rein on her emotions. The control of the business must remain with her, and she had to keep her distance from Ric as well. He was too alluring by far. Commanding her iciest tone, she replied, “I’m sorry, but those terms are not acceptable to me.”
His mug hit the table and she winced.
“Katie, be reasonable. You’ve never run a business before. I can help. I can deal with all those pesky business chores you’re worried about. I can take care of those things so you can run the restaurant.”
She rose from the sofa and paced to the balcony doors. She looked out, tears of frustration burning against her eyelids, further fuelling her anger. Why, oh why, would no one believe she could do this? Not only the bankers, but her own family merely smiled indulgently at her. Even her dad had reluctantly said, “If you’re not ready to give up on this yet, go see Richard Emerson. He might just be crazy enough to back you.”
They meant well, she was sure. But faith in her? None. She blinked back the tears and steeled her backbone. She could not show Ric how emotional she was; it would only serve to reinforce the opinion he must have of her…a dilettante. He hadn’t seen her for ten years. How was he to know she’d changed? It was up to her to show him.
“If I wanted to be a restaurant manager, I’d get a job as one. No deal.”
He sighed, holding out his hands as she turned to face him. “You’re not looking at this rationally. I know about starting a business. I can save you a lot of headache.”
And what exactly would that prove? Katie sighed. She needed to show everyone, hell, show even herself, that she was a grown up. She could stand on her own two feet. She didn’t want to go through life holding someone’s hand for safety.
“Maybe I don’t want to be saved. Did you think of that?” She stepped towards him and all her control dissolved as she stared into his incredulous face. “I didn’t come to your office looking for a business partner. I came looking for a loan. One I intend to repay on reasonable terms. Not this!” Her arm swept wide in a curt gesture.
His brow furrowed with confusion. “Why not? I don’t understand. I thought you’d be a little resistant, but Katie, you’re downright hostile. It’s a good offer. A beneficial one.”
His voice was calmly rational and it only served to infuriate her more. Of course he would think she couldn’t do it on her own. That seemed to be the general consensus among her family and friends. She swept a hand over her hair in exasperation. She couldn’t blame them; sometimes she felt that way herself.
She’d look in the mirror and still see the girl labeled “The Girl Most Likely to…Have Fun”. She’d been given that distinction in twelfth grade and it had stuck. General consensus in the halls was that she wasn’t smart enough for greatness, but if you wanted a good time, if you wanted to kick back and relax without worrying about the future, Katie was your girl.
She’d earned the label, she admitted. She’d been a bit of a party girl, more concerned with clothes and hair and boys than studying. But she’d outgrown it. For the few years after high school, her lack of direction had kept her in dead end jobs with no bright prospects for the future. It wasn’t long before she realized the good times hadn’t been worth it. After a couple of years working as a supervisor in a local eatery, she knew how restaurants worked, and not only the service end. She’d watched, and listened, and learned. She stopped partying and bought a computer, using spare time to do research and put together a business plan. This was how she wanted to redeem herself, but it seemed like everywhere she turned, roadblocks popped up. And she was getting damned tired of taking detours. She had realized something surprising during the initial concept and planning of the restaurant. She was smart. And she was stronger than most gave her credit for.
Each time a roadblock had been thrown in her way, she’d found a way around it. Now, when it was so close she could see the open sign, Ric threw up the one block she wasn’t sure she could outmaneuver. She had to do this on her own. It was the only way to validate herself.
No one else seemed to realize it, though, and she could clearly see Ric concurred that this project was beyond her capabilities.
“Why do you want to do this, Ric?” She fisted her hands on her hips. “I mean, you have your own business now. What could possibly entice you to go into partnership with me? You remember what it said under my yearbook picture, don’t you? Most Likely to Have Fun?”
She remembered the look of hurt betrayal she’d seen on his face when she’d turned him down for the prom. She’d actually said “You can’t be serious!” to him. Immediately she’d regretted the words, but the “girls” had been standing not ten feet away, listening to every word. If she hadn’t forgotten that terrible moment, he hadn’t either. He sat rigidly on the sofa, saying nothing and it only added to her vitriol.
Frustration bubbled out as she implored him with her hands. “What is it? You want to show me how superior you are now? A little revenge for previous humiliations?”
His mouth fell open and a line of guilt snuck along her spine, but she was too caught up in her own emotions to stop. “You’re not alone in thinking I can’t do this. Apparently everyone on the face of the planet agrees with you.”
“I never said that.” He stood now too, and faced her. His lips pressed together, a thin line of annoyance. His shoulders were stiff and his hands rested on his hips. “You haven’t even heard me out. This isn’t personal. It makes good business sense.”
Now, apparently, she didn’t have business sense either. “I’ve heard enough.” She squared off against him, feeling small next to his six-foot frame. The little voice in her head that said she wasn’t good enough for anything more was now shouting. No one, not even her own family, believed in her. They patted her on the head and loved her dearly, but didn’t believe her when she said she could take this dream and run with it; make it a reality.
“This restaurant will be mine, and mine alone. I’ll do the work and I’ll damn well take the credit. Whoever is smart enough to back me will get their money back along with a reasonable rate of interest for their trouble. But I will not hand the reins over to someone who thinks they know better than I do.” She caught her breath, lowering her tone. “Now, if you’re done, I’ll ask you to leave.”
Her stomach lurched as she heard the words come out of her mouth, much stronger than she felt them. She was letting the one chance she had go. But the last thing she wanted was a partner taking over, which was exactly what would happen. And he’d be around a lot. Too much. Before they knew it, he’d be running everything and she’d be following, rather than leading.
And she knew herself well enough to know that to put Ric Emerson in close proximity for any length of time, she’d screw that up too. She’d let it become personal and lose her perspective—something she couldn’t afford to do. She’d hurt him once before, and wouldn’t do it again.
His face dropped into a mask of incredulity and he stepped back, shoving his hands into his pockets. “You’re kicking me out?”
“You bet your sweet chequebook.”
Two distinct lines of disapproval wrinkled between his brows as quiet settled, heavy and uncomfortable. “I see,” he said quietly. “Well, good luck finding a backer, Katie. You’re going to need it.”
She didn’t miss the arrogant note in his voice. As she shut the door behind him, she had the sinking feeling she’d just ruined everything.
So there you have it...of course, if you want to read more, you can always buy it at Samhain Publishing. LOL