Alex put the phone down and went to work. She knew her mother was going to be reaching out to old clients. She’d seen the list of businesses herself. She didn’t expect many to call her though.
She especially didn’t expect to hear from Fierce, the biggest name on the list. The one that could generate a massive amount of future business for her. The one she really wanted a chance at working with. Not that she’d admit that to her mom since she put up such a fit about her mother reaching out to begin with.
Unfortunately for her, she’d have to deal with Cade Fierce now.
Not that she’d ever met him in person. Or any of the Fierce siblings. She remembered their mother, Jolene, and their father, Gavin, from when they came to pick things up from her parents when she was a kid. But she’d never seen their kids.
She knew of Cade though. Or better yet, his reputation at Duke.
Maybe it was all false? Or maybe not. She was painfully familiar with reputations and assumptions about herself and tried to keep that in perspective.
None of that mattered because he was going to be here in a few hours and wanted to see what she had to offer, so she’d be ready for him.
Only she wasn’t ready for him when he walked in the door all full of confidence with a swagger that would rival James Dean.
He had dark hair and darker eyes. Eyes that were smiling at her. No, smirking. Like he had something he wanted to say but was biting his tongue. She’d seen that look from men before and was going to pretend indifference, a look she’d mastered so long ago.
“Hi,” she said, walking forward with her hand out. “You must be Cade.”
“I am,” he said. “I’m looking for Alex Marshall. I’m supposed to be meeting him.”
She snorted. Should have figured he would have expected a man. Not only that…didn’t she just greet him like she knew she was his appointment? Guess he wasn’t as smart as she’d thought. “I’m Alex.”
He grinned at her. Didn’t apologize. Didn’t do much more than say, “Well, then I’m just on time when normally I’m late. Make sure you tell my mother that if you see her.”
She frowned, not understanding that comment at all. “Why would I tell your mother that? Or why would I see her?”
“I just figured you knew her since she asked me to give you a call and see if we could work something out on a business front. As for telling her I’m on time, I never am. Or so my siblings always tell me.”
He was sending her a smile that would melt even the strictest of nuns’ hearts. The one that stood over you with a scowl on her face and a ruler in her hand. Only that nun would look at Cade Fierce and politely hand over the ruler and apologize to him. That was dangerous.
She turned and glanced at the clock. “You’re two minutes early, actually.”
“I’m on time when it counts,” he said, winking at her. Smooth. Definitely smooth.
She wasn’t sure what to expect from him, but not someone this friendly. This nice. This charming. He wasn’t flirting when she kind of thought he might, was he? She couldn’t tell, which was odd for her. She wasn’t annoyed over that, not really. Guess all those rumors about him really weren’t true. Or he changed. Or she lost her edge, which was possible with her dry spell.
Nah, if what she’d heard was true, guys like that, they didn’t change. Like she said, he was smooth as silk.
Or like the soft buttery leather shoes she’d noticed he had on his feet with jeans that probably cost more than all the pants in her closet. At least his shirt wasn’t too flashy. A light pink button-down with the sleeves rolled up. It took one confident man to wear pink, even as pale as the one he had on.
“I’m a little short staffed right now, so if you don’t mind meeting here, that’d be great.”
“Where is everyone?” he asked, looking around at the front reception area they were standing in. It wasn’t anything modern or sparkly like she’d bet his office was, but it did the job.
“I’ve got two people in the office beyond that window, but one is out on maternity leave and another called in sick. I’m kind of manning the front and the back at the same time.”
“Are you the only one that does the work out back?” he asked, frowning.
“Hardly. I’m not sure what you’ve heard about our business, but it’s growing pretty fast. I’ve got about fifteen employees out back that rotate between all of the machines. Most of the work is set up once it’s designed, then it’s just making sure the machines do what they need to do, boxing up orders, shipping and such. With any luck, I’ll bring on more staff soon, but we’re pretty busy right now.”
It sounded good to her ears when she said it. He didn’t need to know that she just hired half that staff in the past six months when things started to jump. She was hoping it continued to flow and some of those part-timers could become full time. But for the moment she’d be happy to not lay anyone off.
“So show me what you’ve got,” he said.
She’d produced a bunch of sample items already with the Fierce logo on them that she had stored in a box to show him one by one. A slow tease of sorts. She was still thinking about the items, right? Yeah, she was. She shook her head.
“I still had access to the old Fierce logo from when my parents ran the business. I thought you might get a kick out of that.”
He did by the grin he was sporting. “That’s great. It actually gives me an idea for some throwback items. I’ll have to talk it over with my family. But you’ve nailed the red and that’s hard to do,” he said, holding a coffee cup in his hand. Not a small cheap one, but a nice big oversized one that required two hands. Like his two large hands wrapped around it.
Damn, she needed to stop being so distracted when she never was before.
“We can do just about anything when it comes to printing in terms of what we print on. I know that is not hard to find. Where I’ve grown the business from my parents’ days is with the range of designs and techniques.”
She pulled out a beer glass from a box and handed it over. “This is sweet.” He ran his long finger around the etching in the glass. “Can you get other glass styles? Who are your vendors for that?”
“I can give you all that information if we end up working together.”
He glanced up, his eyes staring at her while she held her breath to see if he’d call her out on that. He didn’t. “Sounds reasonable. What else do you have there?”
“My new baby is the embroidery equipment. Once I create the design and program it in, the machine does the rest. Personally, I like this better on clothing than the old school ink printing, but not everyone does.”
She handed over three red T-shirts with the Fierce logo on them. One for the brewery with a beer glass, one for the pub with a bar and stools, and one for the restaurant with a plate and silverware all embroidered under the name.
“My brothers are going to wet themselves over these.”
She laughed over his statement, amused all his smoothness flew out the window in his excitement. She’d take that as a compliment.
He grimaced. “Sorry. Completely unprofessional and it slipped. Words tend to fly out of my mouth when I’m excited about something.”
“Good to know.” She had this!
“So you said you design and program everything in?” he asked.
“Yes. I can do just about everything in terms of graphic design, but I like some stuff better than others.”
“Do you do web design?” he asked, his eyes looking hopeful.
“I can, but it’s not my specialty. For cost purposes, I’ve created and continued to update our webpage, but I’m sourcing out for the meat behind the basic pages.”
She’d have liked to save the cost of that, but there were only so many hours in a day and she was lucky to get five hours of sleep on a good day.
“Can you order from your website?” he asked.
“That’s why I source out. I upload pictures and descriptions for the items, but someone else makes it all work properly for ordering and processing.”
“That’s good to know. I’d love nothing more than to offer more items soon on our website too.”
“Great, but if you don’t mind me saying, you looked like you might have been interested if I did that also. Are you dissatisfied with who you have now?”
“Not at all. I was just hoping it would be a negotiating tool to put everything in one spot.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” she said.
“Not disappointed at all. What else do you have in that magic box right there?”
Back to his smoothness again, throwing out accolades. “I’m not sure it’s magic, but if it gets me a job, then you can call it anything you want.”
She put the box on the counter for him to dig into himself. He was pretty much ignoring her at this point while he looked over everything she’d printed on, from pens, to shot glasses, to Christmas ornaments.
“Are you self-taught?” he asked, not even looking at her but still digging through the box.
“No. I went to Duke and majored in graphic design.”
His head snapped up fast, he hesitated, and then grinned. “So did Ella and I.”