Falling for the Texan

by

Nicole Flockton

She plans to open his mind. Instead he uncorks her heart.

Tyler Prentice is determined to launch his new winery with a sophisticated and delicious splash. He has a lot riding on this venture—pride, his dreams and all his savings. To ensure the success of his launch, he hires a top marketing firm. But Gianna Lucchia and her marketing plan is not what he expected or wants. Still, he can’t stop thinking about her.

Losing a major advertising account is devastating. Having to travel to Nowhere, Texas, to prove she can still create a successful branding campaign is even worse. But Gianna’s no quitter. Her plan is simple—get in, create buzz, return home. Except her presentation crashes and burns. Tyler’s ideas are different from hers and he wants something else. Her.

Working together on the launch invigorates more than Gianna’s creativity. Tyler is sexy, smart and challenges her on so many levels, but Gianna’s past threatens to destroy it all. Can Tyler let go of his pride and make an even bigger gamble…on love?

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“You can’t be serious.” Gianna Lucchia slumped in the chair and glared across the expanse of dark mahogany at her boss—Rupert Willington of Willington Advertising.

He didn’t even flinch but simply raised an impervious eyebrow at her. “Very serious. You’ve got one chance to prove yourself after losing the Hayward account. One of this agency’s major clients, I might add. Hayward’s has been with me for years. I’m going to have to do everything I can to see if I can convince Donald to bring his business back to us.” Rupert shook his head in disgust.

What a shame he’d have to do some work for a change.

Gianna had worked her butt off to please Donald and his sleazy son Keith, but nothing she did was ever good enough. How many times had she followed their demands to the T only for them to come back and tell her she’d gotten it all wrong and they wanted more changes? Too many to count.

The final straw had been when Keith had tried to put the moves on her. She’d shut him down quickly. After all the recent news headlines, the fact Keith thought he could coerce her with a kiss into going on a date with him had infuriated her. She did not regret piercing her stiletto through the toe of his handmade Italian shoes. In her five-year advertising career she’d never been hit on by a client. But Keith believed he was entitled to have everyone fall at his feet when he commanded. She couldn’t stand men like him. No wonder his wife was divorcing him. Deep down, she was glad they’d taken their business away and she wouldn’t have to deal with the likes of him again.

Rupert had been furious, his face so red she worried he might collapse at her feet. Even though she explained what Keith had tried to do to her, all he’d shown had been a smidgeon of concern before raging on about the company’s reputation and what it would mean for future business. His company always came first.

She should’ve shoved her resignation under his nose and walked out right then, but her credit card bill had come in the day before and, well, she really should’ve resisted the temptation of Jimmy Choo’s new fall collection. But, the time had come to look for a new job, even more so now that she was going to be sent to small-town Texas to work on a piddly, unimportant account. Small towns gave her hives. Her parents had spent the first twenty-five years of their lives in a small Italian village, where poverty showed in every single building that was crumbling on every street. They’d told her how hard it had been to live in those type of circumstances and how they’d fought to get out of there. She had no idea if their hometown still existed. And she wasn’t about to check Google Maps to find out its current status.

“Isn’t there someone else who could do this? Why me?” Oh my God, I sound like a five-year-old. Way to make an even better impression.

“Because this is a startup vineyard and it’s your chance to make them shine, like I know you’re capable of doing.”

Wow, Rupert gave her a compliment. That didn’t happen often.

“It will also get you out of the picture while I try to deal with the fallout of losing a major client.”

And just as quickly, he taketh the compliment away. Typical. Why was she still here? Oh, yeah, she had bills to pay, and one thing her parents had pounded into her was that financial security was paramount. Always have something new and better lined up before letting go of the old and decrepit—a hang up from the life they’d left behind before fortunes swung in their favor and they started a new life in America.

Tonight, though, she was getting online to start the process of looking for a new job. Maybe reach out to some contacts in the industry to see if they had any openings. Or knew of a firm that was hiring. If she could complete this token job in a couple of weeks, she’d be able to get back to New York and job hunt in earnest. And maybe Rupert had a point—she would make this account the most successful campaign she’d ever done and then it would look good on her résumé.

She straightened her spine. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Rupert looked down his nose at her. “You thought you had a choice? You didn’t. I’ll get Craig to email the details to you.”

He wasn’t talking about Craig Johnson, was he? “Why is Craig emailing the details?” she asked, voicing her concerns.

“He was due to work on the account. Apparently, it’s a friend of his vineyard and he pitched the account to me. We don’t normally do this type of thing, but Craig was quite convincing. In light of his presentation and persuasion skills, I need him to work on the Washington account now, so you get this job.”

Only part of what Rupert said made sense to her. Sure, she got the inference that she was getting the inferior account because of what had happened with the Haywards. The Washington account was one everyone wanted to work on. Each year, a new team was created to work on the summer campaign for the following year. Everyone knew, if they were lucky enough to be assigned to their next campaign, the large clothing retailer always gave out free samples. Gianna had been hoping it would be her turn. She was due; she’d been with the company longer than Craig, although he had more experience. Still it should’ve been her turn. Damn Keith Hayward, with his sleazy ways and wandering hands.

Yep, definitely time to look for a new job.

“Fine, I’ll wait to get the details from him. Is there anything else you want to go over?” Like maybe saying he was only joking and she was going to work on the Washington account.

“Nope, that’s it. Just make sure you do a good job. There’s a lot riding on this account for you.” Rupert turned his focus back to his laptop, clearly dismissing her.

Gianna walked back to her cubicle and dropped her head in her hands the second her butt hit the chair.

When had keeping her dignity and morals become such a bad thing? Rupert had never given her the impression he was one of those bosses who didn’t care for his employees and how they were treated. There were times the old boy’s network was apparent, but she thought he’d always been fair in the end.

What would’ve happened if Craig had been the one to lose the account? Well, that wouldn’t have happened because Keith wouldn’t have pressured Craig into going on a date with him. Or touch him in a way that wasn’t appropriate. Then again, she had no idea of Keith’s preferences, so maybe he might have propositioned Craig.

Oh, my God, just stop it. Do I really care about Keith’s sexual preferences?

Her inner voice was right. Worrying about Keith wasn’t going to change anything. Rupert had shown his true colors and she’d stood her ground. The goddess within her was proud of how she’d kept control in a less than ideal situation.

And to prove Rupert wrong, she was going to knock this account out of the park. Her campaign was going to make this client’s wine so popular everyone would want a bottle. When Rupert called her in to praise her, she would thank him, then hand over her resignation because she’d landed a job with an even bigger firm. She’d walk out, head held high, and Rupert would regret he’d ever misjudged her.

Ahh yes, that little fantasy should keep her going, not to mention keep her in a job so she could pay her bills. Maybe her parents had been right when they cautioned her all those years ago about credit cards.

Pay cash for everything, Gianna. If it takes a little longer to have what you want, the wait will be worth more than getting so far into debt you can’t breathe. Her dad’s voice rang in her mind.

“Hey, Gianna, I hear you’re taking Tyler’s account over from me.”

Gianna looked up and saw Craig, his arm resting on the top of her cubicle. He was a friendly, open guy and didn’t deserve her anger, but she couldn’t push it aside. “Yep, lucky me. It’s going to be so much fun.” She didn’t even bother to hide her sarcasm.

Craig’s eyebrow rose a fraction, the only indication her words came as a surprise. “I think you may be surprised when you get there. Here’s what I’ve got so far.” He held out a file.

“Thanks,” she muttered and grabbed it, tossing it onto her desk. Her colleague wasn’t one to gossip, but if she didn’t get herself under control, he would be telling everyone to give her a wide berth.

Sometimes life shortchanges you, Gia mia. How you deal with it is what matters. Complaining and kicking up a fuss will never achieve anything. Holding your head up and turning your fortunes around is more satisfying.

This time, one of her mom’s wisdoms popped into her mind. Her parents were the hardest working people she knew. They’d given her everything they could when they’d moved to America, both working two jobs until they’d established themselves. Saving every extra penny to pay for her college education so she wouldn’t have a debt when she finished, which, living in New York, was a relief. Now they were enjoying their retirement by taking a year-long vacation to Australia. She’d paid for their round-trip flights as a thank you for all they’d done for her. Another reason why her bank balance was looking a little shaky.

Channeling her bitterness and anger into a little box, she mentally wrapped it up with a tight bow and tossed it out an imaginary window. Immediately, she felt a little better.

“Why don’t you look at the information I have, and I can answer any questions. I think the sooner you get to Sweet Ridge, the better. I know Tyler was wanting to launch around Halloween.” Craig spoke as if he hadn’t witnessed her mental battle with herself.

The calendar marked the beginning of September. “Are you kidding me? That’s almost impossible. Why did he leave it to the last minute?” She grabbed the folder and opened the contents. There wasn’t a lot of information, but her eye was drawn to a picture of four men smiling. One of the guys in the picture looked really familiar. “Hey, isn’t this Trey Prentice, first baseman for the New York Comets?”

“Yep, he’s Tyler’s older brother.”

Picking it up, she studied the picture a little closer, noticing the similarities between all the men. “Which one is Tyler?” They were all good-looking, and Trey had never seemed to be short on female company. Or so the gossip websites were happy to point out.

“This one.” Craig pointed to the other black-haired man in the shot. “Tate is the youngest brother.” He pointed to the brown-haired man. “And Trenton is their dad.”

Craig didn’t need to point out who their dad was in the picture; it was obvious. “Huh, all their names begin with a T. I bet that got confusing as they grew up.” But it was an angle she could use, not to mention having a famous brother like Trey Prentice to help give the product some legitimacy. Obviously, the winery was a family business. Perhaps this account wouldn’t be so bad after all. “What about Mom? Did her name start with a T as well?”

Craig shrugged. “Don’t think so. Tyler doesn’t talk about her much. She died when he was a teenager.”

Gianna sat back in her chair. “So how do you know this Tyler guy?”

“Went to college with him. He studied viticulture.”

“Viticulture is as far away from marketing and advertising as we are to California. Were you roommates or frat brothers?” Gianna studied the picture again. He might have been smiling in the picture, but his eyes didn’t sparkle the same way his father and his brothers’ did. It seemed like he was faking it for the camera and couldn’t wait to get away from them all.

Interesting.

Very interesting.

“I wasn’t in a fraternity, and no, we weren’t roommates. We met when we dated twin sisters. Our relationships with the girls didn’t last long, but Tyler and I found we had a lot in common. Liked the same music and food.”

“Ahh, a bromance.”

Craig rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Anyway he’s a good guy, and I really wanted to help him get his winery off the ground. Make his first launch a huge success. He’s got a lot riding on it.”

Okay, so not a family business then. “I feel like there’s more to this story than you’re letting on. Do I need to know this information? Will it help me in my planning?”

“The family’s business is peach farming. They’re really successful at it and grow some of the best peaches I’ve ever tasted. But it’s never been Tyler’s thing. He didn’t love peaches as much as his younger brother, Tate. He was finally able to convince his dad to let him have some land that wasn’t being used and turn it into a small vineyard. Tyler has worked hard to make it succeed. So you have to create a kick-ass campaign, including a label, for him.”

“No pressure, then,” she joked, but her creative juices were beginning to ferment. All the other accounts she’d ever worked on had been for established clients. Tyler’s account and business were brand-new—a challenge she could really sink her Jimmy Choos into. Not to mention she already had an ace in her deck—Trey Prentice, star baseball player. He would be perfect as the face of the product and campaign.

Everything about this situation was turning more and more into an opportunity.

“I trust that you’ll do a great job, Gianna. You’re one of the best here. If you need any further information or help, let me know.” Craig tapped his fingers on the top of her cubicle. “I had made some travel arrangements for this weekend. If you’re interested, I’ll see if I’m able to transfer them so you don’t have to make your own. I’ll keep you informed.”

“This weekend?”

“Yeah, as you said, there’s not a lot of time.”

Gianna sighed. The quicker she got there, the sooner she’d be able to get back to the city. “Okay, that sounds good. Let me know how you get on with changing the arrangements, and if I need help with this”—she tapped the file—“I’ll call.”

Craig nodded and, with one last tap on her cubicle, he walked away. She went back to studying the picture she still held. “Be prepared to be wowed, Tyler Prentice. Gianna Lucchia is coming, and she’s going to blow your mind with her campaign.”

End of Excerpt