If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE yet, check it out.
The Matchmaking Bus
One Year Later
“Ivan,” Ella said to him when he knocked on her open doorframe and walked into her office. “I appreciate your willingness to meet today, but shouldn’t you be at your other job?”
“I took the day off,” he said.
“And yet you’re working here?”
“I’ve got nothing else better to do and I’m only giving the time back at the end of the year if I don’t use it.”
“Maybe you should take a vacation.”
He turned to see Cade, who’d asked that question, standing in the doorway now. “Please,” he said. “It’s no fun on your own.”
“It’s more like you don’t want to spend the money,” Cade said, snickering and moving on.
“Ignore him,” Ella said. “He has his life and you’ve got yours.”
He’d heard before he was cheap and he never denied it. He couldn’t help it.
Ivan had a degree in economics and worked full time doing risk management for an insurance company. He’d recently been promoted to overseeing the department. He was thrilled with the money but not so thrilled with managing the people.
He was getting better with the staff after adapting his job and keeping to himself. He had no problem managing the work, but petty shit got under his skin. His staff was starting to realize he was fair as long as they did their job. That was all he cared about.
“I don’t need a flashy car or big house like Cade. It’s transportation that gets me from point A to B the same as his.”
“That’s right,” Ella said. “And your house is lovely, if plain. You did a spectacular job with it and Travis still wishes that he’d been around to help knock walls down.”
Ivan grinned. He lived in a development and had a house bigger than he needed. Renting threw money away, but he wasn’t going to buy something he couldn’t put some sweat equity into. His father worked in construction for years and Ivan was handy. Just because he didn’t want to swing a hammer his whole life didn’t mean he couldn’t do the work.
His goal had been to find the ugliest most rundown house in a decent area and bring its value up. He’d done just that and was thrilled.
“I’m not all about bright colors and decorations either,” he said.
“Travis complains all the time about it, but he knows better. He has his space and I’ve got the rest of the house.”
He’d been in Ella’s massive house. It looked as if a designer had staged it, but it was homey too. Ella and Travis’s daughter, Madison, had a bedroom all little girls dreamed of, and now with baby number two on the way in four months, he was sure their son was going to have a room to match.
“What is it you need me to do?” he asked.
For the past two years or so, he’d been working for Fierce doing what he loved to do. Risk assessment. Money management. Trends and forecasting in their industry.
Things Ella did when Fierce started to expand. She just didn’t or couldn’t do it the way he did.
Fierce had gotten so big, even without having a family to care for, Ella couldn’t possibly do it all alone.
There were some things they only wanted family to be part of and he’d been thrilled when they asked him to help out.
They’d offered him a job full time, but he liked where he was. He liked the security of it and the work he did. He wasn’t positive there was enough work for him at Fierce full time and didn’t want to take advantage of the family connection.
This worked out better. He got to keep his hand in the pie. To him it was a hobby he loved that paid him well for his time. He didn’t have to work weekly but found he was always reading articles and looking for information when there wasn’t data for him to analyze and trend out.
“Mason is thinking of branching out into liquor. The brewery, as you know, is our largest percentage of revenue. Like Aiden selling his spices and sauces, this is another avenue we need to look into before we decide the scope of it. Do we start small? Do we add onto the brewery and buy the equipment needed?”
“Devin mentioned something to me about it a few months ago,” he said.
His brother, Devin, was Mason’s right-hand man at the brewery. He worked nights and managed the distribution part of the business, allowing Mason to focus more on the actual brewing.
“It has merit with a shift in drinking trends,” Ella said, “but I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon just yet. No one does. Look what happened with spiked seltzer. Everyone jumped and businesses are losing money left and right on it. It is a fad and the market is so diluted that product is sitting on the shelves.”
“Let me do my research and see what I can find. Are you looking high end or more affordable? Whiskey or vodka, maybe gin? Tequila? Devin didn’t say.”
“Mason would prefer bourbon or whiskey. You know he has a few brews that are aged in bourbon barrels. He’s thinking that makes more sense. Produce our own bourbon to mix with the brews.”
“And we know your father loves a good bourbon,” he said of his uncle Gavin.
Ella grinned. “I believe this is part of it. My father is excited over the possibility, but you know as well as I do, he would want to do what is right for the business. He can buy his bourbon anywhere.”
“But there isn’t as much enjoyment as saying your son made it,” he said.
“Very true.” There was a knock at the door. “Kendra, perfect timing. Ivan, I thought you and Kendra would work on this together while I’m out on maternity leave. She’s been doing some research too for me. Broader than anything else.”
“Hi, Ivan,” Kendra said, pushing her glasses up on her nose a bit.
Ella’s assistant had been employed since his cousin returned from her maternity leave with Madison. She was a quiet woman, a little on the plain side. Long brown hair pulled back and held with a clip at the base of her neck, her black rimmed glasses a little big on her face.
Her pants and shoes were black, her shirt was gray.
She was simple and polite and right up Ivan’s alley.
He didn’t like anyone flashy. No one that looked like they were high maintenance.
Not even loud or bold. He got that enough in his family.
“Kendra,” he said. He didn’t see her often but had a handful of times. They didn’t talk much and had never worked together. He might have been trying to figure out in his mind how to get to know Kendra more but had kept it to himself.
“I’ve got the reports you asked for,” Kendra said with the binder in her hand. “They are color coded too.”
“Of course they are,” Ella said, laughing. “It’s the only color you enjoy seeing.”
Kendra laughed and he felt his blood rush through his veins. It was the first time he’d heard it and had no idea he’d react this way.
“Solid neutral colors make life easier,” Kendra said.
“And faster to get dressed in the morning,” Ivan said.
“See,” Kendra said. “Your cousin gets it.”
Ella shook her head. “I’m filling Ivan in on what we are looking for and what you two are going to be working on together. Kendra has printed out potential costs for you. Machinery we might need, manpower, building upgrades. Things like that if we expand. There are costs there to start small, and costs to go big.”
“Perfect,” he said, reaching his hand for the binder. “Can you email me that information too?”
“I already did before I walked in here,” Kendra said. “I know you’ll want to play with those numbers, but if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to flip through and see it in front of you on paper while you are playing with numbers on the computer.”
“Very much so,” he said.
“I’ll let you two talk some more,” Kendra said. “I’ve got a call in a few minutes. Ivan, you’ve got my email and extension here if you need anything. At some point we can figure out a time to meet, but I know you’ve got another job. I can be flexible.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I won’t make you work nights or weekends. I’ll take time off of work like I did today. We’ll figure it out.”
“No worries,” Kendra said and she walked back to the door, his eyes still on her until she left the room.
“This is going to be fun,” he said. “How long has Mason been playing with this?” he asked
Ivan knew his cousin wouldn’t attempt anything unless he’d perfected it.
“We got the distilling license years ago because he’s been playing with it on his own time at home. In the past few years he’s made several batches and has been aging them for different periods of time. He thinks he has it down to what he is looking for. Definitely to use in his brews. The question is if it will sell. Kendra has the costs of the supplies and timelines too. She’s been working on that for the past several months and getting the information from Jessica. I know we would start small. Just selling it in the store at the brewery and go from there. Have it here at the bar too, and Aiden using it for cooking. Again, that information on the savings from purchasing other bourbon and whiskey and sales here needs to be factored in. Kendra should have some of that for you in that binder.”
He was rubbing his hands together. “Right up my alley,” he said. This was totally a hobby to him that paid well. Money he didn’t need that he invested carefully.
He made sure he could live comfortably on his full-time job and the rest was bonus.
“There is my nephew.”
Ivan turned to see his Aunt Jolene standing in the doorway. “Why is it you always know when I’m here even when I’m not often?”
“Don’t look at me,” Ella said. “I’d never throw my cousins under the matchmaking bus.”
“Oh, please,” his aunt said, waving her hand. “You watch me like a hawk. It’s as much fun for you to catch me as it is for me to set someone up, Ella.” His aunt turned to him. “Your brother is married, your cousin Liam engaged. Lots of babies everywhere. What is your hold up, Ivan? You’re not getting any younger.”
“Did you just call me old?” he asked his aunt.
“I did. If you don’t get a move on, your little swimmers might dry up and then how are you going to give your mother and father a child to carry on the name?”
Ella burst out laughing. “You’re in rare form today, Mom. What’s the matter? Did Devin and Hope not give you the answer you wanted on when they were having a baby and now you need to pick on Ivan?”
He appreciated Ella going to bat for him. “I’m going to tell you what Devin did. Probably what everyone has said to you, Aunt Jolene. I’m onto you.”
His aunt laughed. “You all think you are, but you fall for it anyway. Just ask my girl here. The one with the second baby in her belly.”
“Dad set me up, not you,” Ella said.
His aunt scrunched her nose. Ivan knew it was a sore subject that his uncle started this all years ago without his aunt knowing. No one got anything past Aunt Jolene…except her husband.
Sometimes her kids.
He was going to make sure his name was added to that group and that was why he hadn’t made a move toward Kendra yet.
He’d bet anything his aunt had it all figured out and he’d be damned if he was going to let someone else call all the shots in his life.
Boring or not, it was his.
“Seriously, Mom,” Ella said. “How is it you know when Ivan is here all the time?”
Jolene walked to the door to look around and make sure that Ivan was gone, then shut her daughter’s door. “It’s my sixth sense.”
“Bullcrap,” Ella said with a massive grin on her face. Her hand dropped to her belly to rub.
“Is my grandson active?” she asked. “He hears my voice.”
“Yeah and he’s learning to run in the other direction like everyone else does,” Ella said.
“You didn’t answer me on how you knew Ivan was here. For all you know he could have been at his other job.”
Jolene didn’t want to give away all her secrets, but she’d learned a long time ago if she gave a little it got her daughter off her back.
“I was talking to Shay earlier today. It just so happened that she mentioned Ivan was coming to dinner tonight.”
“And that made you think he’d be here?” Ella asked.
“No. He works late. He’s never out on time to go to dinner. Not unless he isn’t at work. Following the logic, I decided to come to the pub and get lunch and check in on things. Imagine my surprise when I heard his voice upstairs.”
Ella snorted. “Yeah. Imagine that.”
“You’ve got him working on numbers for Mason and his bourbons?”
“I do,” Ella said. “You know all the business that is going on here. There isn’t much that gets by you nor would we keep those things from you and Dad.”
“You five have done a wonderful job running and expanding this business for years. We trust you.”
“We know you do. But you still like to stick your finger into the pie and pull it out for a taste.”
“I do love my desserts,” she said. “I might have to see what is on the special today too and bring something home for your father.”
“Is there anything else you needed from me?” Ella asked.
“Is Kendra working on this with Ivan?”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree there, Mom.”
“I asked a simple question,” she said. “What are you talking about?”
“Kendra and Ivan. That is your plan. I know it. Admit it. You’ve had it in your mind for a year and you see it’s not going anywhere.”
There was no reason to lie about this. Again, some things were better to be out in the open. “I don’t understand what is taking so long.”
Ella lowered her voice. “I’m not sure if Kendra is into dating.”
“She’s not gay,” she said. “No way. I’d know. I can sense that.”
Ella laughed again and put her hand over her mouth to stop the noise. “I didn’t say that. I said I’m not sure she is into the dating scene. I’ve never heard her mention a man before and she’s been here over a year.”
“She’s very private about her life,” she said. “She has a lot on her shoulders caring for her mother.”
Jolene knew Kendra’s story now. She didn’t when they interviewed the young woman last year. She didn’t know much more other than her gut, which told her Kendra would be a great asset to the team, her daughter, and potentially her nephew Ivan.
But again, damn Ivan was giving her fits and dragging his feet and she wasn’t sure what the problem or issue was.
“You’re making more out of it without knowing all the facts,” Ella said. “Any facts, for that matter. I talk with Kendra more than anyone. She’s private and quiet, but she doesn’t spend as much time caring for her mother as much as you think. Or as much as maybe she used to.”
“She’s probably cheap just like Ivan and that is why she doesn’t go out and date. You know it and I know it. You can see it by her limited wardrobe and the car she drives.”
“Kendra is very practical. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s her life.”
“She’s boring. Come on. You know it. You pick on her clothing colors all the time.”
“I don’t pick on her,” Ella said. “Not in a mean way. She always compliments me on my clothing and I asked her once why she doesn’t wear more colors.”
“What did she say?” Jolene asked, crossing her arms.
“She said she gets more usage out of plain solid colors.”
“Exactly something Ivan would say. See, perfect for each other.”
“Or so much alike they’d put each other to sleep. As I said, you might be barking up the wrong tree on this one. Let it go and move on to someone else.”
“Nope,” she said. “I love a challenge.”