I nodded while jotting down notes as the client sitting across the table from me spoke. The note-taking wasn’t really necessary, but I did it to make my clients feel like I was really paying attention. I was. It was all being filed away in my memory bank. I prided myself on my ability to remember details.
“Miller’s?” I questioned. Yes, I heard him the first time, but it was part of the game.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I want it. I know I can kick Hershey’s ass if I can get my hands on that company. They have what I need to elevate my brand.”
“Miller’s Chocolates?” I repeated. “I’ve never heard of them.”
The client, James Lyons, was one of our biggest. He was used to getting his way in every aspect of his life. He was one of my father’s old friends, which put just a little more pressure on me to give him what he wanted.
“They sell high-end liquor chocolates,” he said. “I need that company in my portfolio. I can take it to the next level. I want to get the chocolates in hotels, upscale venues, and around the world. The current owner thinks small. I can take it international.”
“Have you approached the owner?” I asked.
He smirked. “I have. My offer wasn’t accepted. I want it.”
“Have you done a financial evaluation?” I asked.
He shrugged as if it didn’t matter he could be buying a money pit. “I figure that’s your job. The company seems to be in good shape. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to completely restructure and expand. I just need the recipes.”
“I’ll get my people to do some investigating,” I said.
“I want it,” he said again. “I’m prepared to offer a very fair amount. I just need you to get the owner to agree to sell it.”
I smiled and put down my pen. “That won’t be an issue. I can be very convincing. I’d like to dig into it a bit. I need to find out what kind of financial shape the company is in. I’ll do what I can to pull the financials. It will give me an edge. I’ll know where to push.”
James smiled, flashing a set of veneers that didn’t quite match his face. The man was pushing sixty but was convinced he was thirty. The hair plugs and obvious plastic surgery on his face weren’t helping. But I didn’t criticize. When I hit sixty, I might be longing for my thirties. “Your dad said you would take care of me,” he said.
“We always do,” I said. “I’ll get right on this. Give me a few days to do my research. It’ll probably be best if I meet with the owner in person. I tend to be a hard man to say no to.”
James chuckled and shook his head. “The Manhattan men have never had a problem with people telling them no. You boys get that from your father. He’s a smooth one.”
I flashed my megawatt smile. “He taught us everything he knows.”
“I look forward to hearing from you,” he said. “I’m counting on you to get this done.”
“It’s already done.” I smiled and walked him to the elevator. “I’ll have a deal done soon.”
We shook hands as we walked out of my office and he stepped into the elevator. I waited until the doors slid closed before turning and heading back to my office. I checked the time and decided to head to the gym early. There were no more meetings on my schedule, and as one of the top guys at the firm, I could sneak out the door a little early.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said to my assistant, who was just coming down the hall.
“Have a good night,” he said.
I stepped into the elevator and got a glimpse of the bustling office. Being an accountant wasn’t exactly a dream people had when they were little. I didn’t wake up one day when I was five and declare I was going to be a CPA. But I realized early on I had a knack for numbers. I loved numbers. I loved looking at a math problem and solving it.
I nodded at the security officer that manned the front door of the building our offices occupied on the prestigious Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The moment I stepped outside, a gust of icy-cold wind blew across me. I shuddered once before stepping to the curb to get a cab. It took all of thirty seconds for one to pull up. I hopped in and gave the driver the address of the private gym a few blocks away.
I walked in, scanned my card, and headed for the locker room where I kept several workout outfits. I changed and headed out to the gym doing the typical nod and wave to those I recognized. It was early, before the six o’clock rush when all the corporate workers hit the gym.
I stepped on the treadmill and began a slow, steady pace. A woman climbed onto the treadmill beside mine. She was vaguely familiar. “Hi.” She smiled.
“Hello.” I nodded back.
“Aren’t you usually here with another guy?” she asked. “The tall, dark, and almost as handsome as you are guy?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “My brother. He’ll be here soon.”
“Who’s the oldest?” she asked with a sexy smile.
“I am,” I answered.
“I’m Taya,” she said.
“Case,” I replied and picked up the speed a bit.
She kept her pace slow. I remembered why she was familiar. She was somewhat notorious. Usually, she traveled with a pack. The ladies treated the gym like their personal man market. I wasn’t interested in being one of the many names under her belt. I was halfway through my usual workout when I caught a glimpse of Edwin.
“Have a good workout,” I said to Taya and hopped off the treadmill.
Edwin was walking toward me, likely to get on his own treadmill. I shook my head. “Skip it,” I said.
He looked over my shoulder and grinned. “Taya.” He laughed.
“You know her?”
“I know her friend Penny,” he said. “And your warning is warranted. Chest day, right?”
“Yes,” I said and followed him across the gym to the state-of-the-art machines the gym boasted.
“Did she get you to take her out?” he teased.
“No,” I said with a shake of my head. I gestured for him to take the first turn on the machine. “She didn’t get that far. She wanted to know who was older out of the two of us.”
“Ah, she wants to get with the heir.” He laughed. “She wants to make sure she marries the one who will inherit the family fortune.”
“I didn’t tell her shit about who we were,” I replied.
“You don’t have to. She knows who you are. You don’t think she did her research? I bet her and the pack have files on every one of us here.”
“Great,” I muttered.
“How’d it go with the big fish?” he asked.
That was something I loved to talk about. “He wants me to buy a company for him.”
“He wants you to buy the company?” He grunted as he pushed the bar up.
“Yep,” I said with my fingers under the bar and ready to take the weight should he lose strength. “He’s got his eyes on it, but the owner isn’t willing to sell. When you want something done, you call in the big guns.”
He groaned, seated the bar, and sat up. “You’re the big guns?” He laughed.
I pointed to my mouth. “All I have to do is flash a smile and turn on the charm. I don’t care who it is. No one can resist this package.”
“Yeah.” He scoffed as I took my turn on the bench. “One of these days, that ego is going to blow up in your face.”
“It’s not an ego,” I replied. “It’s confidence. My confidence is what makes people want to give me what I ask for. I’ve been told I’m very charming. I think that’s the word.”
“Charisma,” he said. “You have charisma. Some people are born with it, and some are not.”
“Guess I’m glad I was,” I said on a breath as I pushed up the two hundred pounds on the bar.
“Where is this business?” he asked.
“Pennsylvania,” I grunted. “Harrisburg.”
“Is it another hotel?” he asked.
I took a few seconds to catch my breath before pushing up the weight again. “Chocolate.”
“A chocolate hotel?” he teased.
“Chocolate factory,” I managed to say before returning the bar and sitting up. I wiped my face on a towel. “Booze-filled chocolates.”
Edwin laughed. “That sounds like it’s right up Lyons’s alley,” he said. “Of course, he wants it.”
“He plans on taking it international,” I explained. “According to him, the current owner is small potatoes and not thinking big enough. You know how he is. He looks for moneymakers. This place is on his wish list, and whatever James wants, James gets.”
“Do you think you’ll get the job done?” he asked.
I gave him a dry look. “I’m not paid the big bucks for nothing.”
He rolled his eyes. “One of these days your ego is going to get walloped. Don’t come crying to me when it does.”
“My ego is just fine,” I told him. “It’s not in any danger.”
We finished our workout and I headed for home. My home in the city. I kept an apartment near the office for days when I worked late or didn’t have the energy to go home to my house in Great Neck. I walked through the door and dropped my keys in the dish on the table by the door.
I went straight for the shower. Once dressed in my sweats, I picked up my phone to order dinner from my favorite Italian restaurant. I opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass before going into the den to do a little research on my target.
A quick internet search led me to the Miller’s Chocolates website. I clicked on the about page and found myself pleasantly surprised. “Well, well, well,” I said as I stared at the head shot of the founder and current owner of the company. “Miss Emma Miller, so nice to meet you.”
She was not what I expected. I assumed it was going to be some crotchety old guy unwilling to give up his family’s company. I was not expecting Emma Miller. I quickly opened another window to do a personal search of the business owner.
“Twenty-six and never been married.” I nodded as I read through the information that was frighteningly easy to find out about a total stranger.
This could work to my advantage. I wasn’t necessarily arrogant, but I knew the ladies liked me. My looks were not my fault or even something I could control. That was all my parents, and I wasn’t complaining. They gave me the black hair, blue eyes, and my height, but I took full credit for keeping my body in tiptop shape. I was a gym rat and not ashamed of it. It was how I stayed sane. When I had a problem, I hit the gym. When I was mad, I hit the gym. It was my outlet.
I went back to the company page and stared at the picture of the woman who was about to be the recipient of my charm. Gorgeous green eyes stared at me from the screen. Her hair was a honey brown with streaks of lighter shades through it. Her hair fell around her shoulders, perfectly framing her pretty face. She was wearing minimal makeup in the picture. She was a natural beauty.
“Miss Emma, we are about to meet,” I whispered as I pulled up the contact page. I quickly typed out a message asking for a meeting. I made sure she knew I was willing to meet in her hometown. It was all about making her feel relaxed.
I sent the email and couldn’t help but take one last look at the woman I was about to make very rich and very jobless. She was pretty, and if this were any other situation, I could see myself asking her to dinner. Unfortunately, this was business, and a dinner date was not part of the job.