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Guac Olé CEO Grayson Cooper stepped into the Silver Spurs, a man on a mission. He scanned the crowded country-and-western watering hole, more than ready to zero in on his target and take aim.
Unfortunately, Becca Nash hadn’t arrived.
Scott, the bartender and Grayson’s former classmate in high school, greeted him with a finger pointed up. “Hey, pretty boy, you know what we do with ties in here.” He nodded toward the ceiling where colorful, mutilated neckties decorated the joint.
“Thanks for the reminder.” Grayson selected an empty two-top table and sat down. There was no way his Armani silk tie was going to become a ceiling ornament. He loosened it and looked around.
He’d chosen the Silver Spurs for drinks with his Guac Olé line-supervisor-turned-majority-shareholder thanks to his late father willing away fifty-two percent of the company shares to her, because the popular Sweet Ridge honky-tonk might be more her simple, country-girl speed. A place she’d feel comfortable in to kick up her cowboy boots.
Not that he had any clue where she hung out. Nor had he asked where she might like to meet for drinks. That would have involved having a conversation, and he preferred sending a note via his assistant, Eleanor. Although, he’d been taken aback when she’d returned with the news that Becca would meet him, but not at seven o’clock like he’d suggested.
And now it was ten past eight. Grayson scanned the crowded bar. His brothers, Gavin and Gage, always teased him that he never quite fit into small-town Sweet Ridge life, and they were probably right. He certainly didn’t frequent stereotypical Texas bars other than the Silver Spurs from time to time with his brothers, but he loved his Dallas Cowboys, and watching games here was his routine during football season. So what if he wore a suit—sans tie—while doing it?
Fixing his gaze on a menu, he went over his plan again. Once Becca arrived, he’d compliment her on her outfit, because, from his experience, all women liked it when a man noticed what they were wearing.
He’d then engage in small talk about the factory. Get her talking until she let her hair down. Once she loosened up, he’d offer to buy her out. Sure, he’d take a hit from his trust fund, but he’d eventually recoup the money. He pulled out of his suit jacket his monogrammed note card with the intentionally lowball price he’d offer. He doubted she’d realize it. It was probably more money than she could ever imagine.
Confident, he set the card to the side. There was no way she’d say no.
“Oh, my stars! If it isn’t Grayson Cooper. Here at the Silver Spurs without Gavin and Gage, and the Cowboys aren’t even in preseason yet.”
He grinned up at the waitress, a firecracker redhead he’d known since middle school. “What can I say? I missed your nachos. How’s it going, Meg?”
“I can’t complain. Another day, another paycheck.”
“Well, you look great. Is that a new hair color?”
She tossed her shoulder-length mane. “Do you like it? I’m almost done with my cosmetology classes and did the color myself.” She lowered her voice. “Hoping to get out of this joint in a couple of months.” Her lips curled up. “I’ve got a chair at the Loose Curl’s beauty salon when I’m done.”
“It’s a shame Scott will lose his prettiest waitress.”
She smiled, and he could see the color in her cheeks start to match her pink lipstick. “Now, don’t go flirting with me, Mr. Charmer. I’ve heard the talk around town.”
No doubt she was referring to the rumors about his and Becca’s “inevitable” courtship. And, as far as he was concerned, Gavin and Gage were to blame for those rumors by falling in love with both of the women who’d inherited what their dad had promised them. Weaklings. The whole town suspected that Grayson and Becca were the next-to-be-crowned couple.
His gut clenched as it did every time the rumors started to swirl. Every…damn…time. “Don’t believe everything you hear.” He added sarcastically, “Or are about to see.”
He’d wanted to have this meeting with Becca shortly after his father’s will reading, when he’d had the mother of all shocks. His dad had willed majority control of Guac Olé to Becca Nash, a line supervisor in the factory.
His livelihood…his dreams…his legacy now belonged to that woman.
His brothers had each received twenty-four percent Guac Olé shares with the stipulation that they couldn’t sell for one year. Their father’s lawyer, Rodney, had informed Grayson that Becca would also have to wait a year’s time before she could be bought out.
Every day since the will reading, Grayson had bit down hard on all the curse words he had for his father’s unconceivable plot twist. He’d made it two full months, but enough was enough.
Screw waiting a year. Rodney would just need to find a loophole, because he was going to make Becca an offer tonight. If he had to wait a full year, he could at least start the negotiation and have Rodney lock her down with a contract.
Meg smacked her gum and pulled out her order pad. “You here by yourself, handsome?”
“Someone is joining me.” No need to fuel the gossip fire any sooner than he needed to. As soon as Becca arrived, it was sure to ignite all on its own. “Can I grab a gin and tonic and some nachos?”
His order seemed to amuse her as she shook her head. “Grayson, you have to be the only man in Sweet Ridge who would order a gentleman’s drink in a honky-tonk with a working-class appetizer.”
“What can I say? I’m a fish out of water,” he joked and stared down at the menu. Deep down, that statement was true. It never really bothered him.
Maybe it should. Neither Gavin nor Gage had ever had any trouble fitting in here.
She reached for his tie and gave it a playful tug. “You might want to take that off.”
“Yeah, I’m on it.” He loosened it further.
Just then, Becca arrived, and Grayson couldn’t help noticing that several male heads turned her way. Meg greeted her and pointed to the table, giving Grayson a big ol’ you-can’t-fool-me grin.
Becca walked over, her long, brown hair wild, wavy and way past her shoulders. For reasons he couldn’t explain, his heart began to race. He stood and pulled out the chair opposite him for her. “Um…hi. You look beau—” He stopped in horror, getting a good look at her. She was wearing a white smock covered in guacamole. Not so beautiful. “It’s good to see you again.” He tightened his tie to show he meant business. He’d keep it on and take his chances. “Um…do you want to change?”
“What? Don’t like my Guac Olé uniform?” she asked but removed it. “Sorry, we had a situation in the factory. I didn’t have time to run home.”
Or pull a brush through your hair. An image of his fingers running through those thick waves popped into his head. He shoved both hands in his pockets and fisted them. Damn Meg and this whole town for believing this woman was his match.
He stood. “I’ll go order you a drink. Would you like a glass of wine?”
“I’ll take a Corona with lime.”
“Sure thing.” He sauntered up to the bar, glad he had a few minutes to get a handle on his heart’s rapid beating. Was he having a heart attack? He was not going toes up in a place where there were peanuts on the floor. “Hey, Scott. Can I get a Corona with lime?”
“You got it, bud. Here’s your gin and tonic too.” Scott glanced over at Becca, his eyes crinkled in amusement. “So, the rumor is true.”
Grayson picked up his glass and swallowed. “Just a business meeting,” he said through gritted teeth. What was he going to have to do to prove to this town that he wasn’t interested in Becca?
“Well, don’t break her heart. Becca’s a special lady.”
“Really? Are you two dating?” Grayson asked, not sure why that question flew out like it did.
“Nah, she shoots me down every single time.” He grabbed a Corona bottle, sliding a lime wedge halfway in, and handed it to Grayson. “She spends a lot of time with her mother.”
Grayson raised a curious eyebrow at that news.
Scott shrugged. “Not sure what the story is,” he said before heading over to the woman at the end of the bar who’d called him over.
Grayson grabbed the beer bottle with one hand and his mixed drink in the other and returned to the table. Becca had tossed her dirty smock around her chair, showing off her pretty yellow sundress. “One Corona for you.” Grayson set the beer down in front of Becca and took his seat.
“Here you go.” Meg set a huge plate of cheesy nachos and a large side bowl of guacamole between them. “You two enjoy.” She winked at Grayson.
Becca picked up her beer, pushed down the lime, and took a sip.
“I’m sorry.” Grayson pointed to the guacamole. “You probably don’t want this after working all day in it…”
“It’s fine.” She took a chip and stirred it into the mixture. “Hmm…not as good as ours.”
“Of course not.” He tried the dip and easily agreed, taking in her bright smile, which caused him to forget for a few seconds what he was here to do. “How long have you been with the company?” he asked, already knowing the answer. Eleanor had pulled her record from human resources. Yeah, his father had willed fifty-two percent of the shares to a college dropout.
“Yeah, time flies,” she said and looked down at her dress.
He’d been on a few first dates to know that when the conversation became awkward, he needed to keep asking questions—not that this was a date. “What do you like about it?”
“About what?” She looked up.
“Working for Guac Olé.”
She took another chip and swirled it in the chunky green guacamole before answering. “See this?”
She shook her head. “It’s more than a dip. It’s an experience. The majority of our customers are probably doing something enjoyable while eating our dip, savoring the simple moments.” She took a bite and closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds. “That’s why I love it. It makes people happy.”
“Happy,” he repeated. He had an MBA. Branding and customer experience had been drilled into him, but there was something smart about the way Becca broke it down to savoring simple moments. “And are you happy right now?”
She smirked and sipped her beer. “It’s not our dip.”
Touché. Grayson leaned back, taking in Becca’s pretty caramel eyes. Surely, she would understand that he was the person to own the company to keep giving consumers that happy experience. After she accepted his generous offer, he could go back to the office and call Rodney to find that damn loophole and draw up the paperwork. “So, speaking of savoring the moment,” he started.
She blinked but didn’t say a word.
“I’d like to make you an offer I think you’re going to like.”
Setting her beer down, she pulled her hair to the side and leaned forward. “Go on.”
He smiled widely. Women couldn’t resist his dimples. At least, that was what all his past flings had said. Sure, he wasn’t trying to bed Becca, but one could argue he was attempting to screw her in a different way. He shook off the fleeting moment of guilt passing through him and picked up the notecard.
“Another one,” she said sarcastically. “What is up with all the notes?”
“Just my way of doing business.” He handed her the card.
“Did you learn that at Wharton?”
It was his turn to blink. She knew where he’d gotten his MBA. Impressive. Although, anyone could read his executive bio on the company website. “My dad was into notes.” He sighed and shook his head. “Even left me a final one in his will.”
“I’m really sorry about your loss. Jack was a great leader,” she said, her tone losing its earlier edge.
“Yes, he was. I learned from the best.” His throat tightened. Picking up his gin and tonic, he took a long drink. Now was not the time to get emotional. He needed to focus, because waiting a full year to buy her out was not in the cards. He needed the company—his legacy—now. “Becca, I want to buy your shares, effective immediately.” Nodding to the card, he added, “Inside you’ll find my more-than-generous offer.”
She opened it, staring down without a reaction. “That’s a lot of money you’re offering me, Mr. Cooper.”
“You’ll be set for life. Could even quit the factory if you’d like. Hang out more with your mother?”
Becca looked up, her eyebrows knitted. “What do you know about my mother?”
“Nothing. Scott mentioned earlier you spend a lot of your time with her.”
She cast a look of disdain in the bartender’s direction. Turning to face Grayson, she handed him back his offer. “Thank you, but I decline.” She stood and grabbed her purse. “Thanks for the drink. I think we’re done here.”
“Ms. Nash, you can’t be serious.” He pushed back his chair and stood. Had this woman really turned down his offer? Yeah, the shares were worth so much more, but she couldn’t know that.
“I am serious. Your father gave me the shares.” She crossed her arms. “He wanted me to have them.”
The hairs on the back of his neck began to bristle at mention of his dad’s intentions. “About that. Why on earth would my father give them to you? Can you explain that to me?”
She ran her hands through her hair, conceding, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know,” he repeated, his eyes narrowed. “There has to be a reason why he gave shares intended for me to someone working in the plant. I’m sure you do a fine job running the production line, but you don’t have any corporate management experience. You’ll be in way over your head. There’s no way you can contribute at that high level.”
“Why, you arrogant, cocky son of a—” She stopped the name-calling and adjusted her purse strap along her bare shoulder. “I don’t need this.”
“Neither do I.”
She started to leave but then spun on her boots. Coming right up to him, she ran her finger up and down his tie. That act sent a signal to his lower region. He gulped.
What was happening? The woman had looked like she was about to slap him only seconds ago. Now her hand was on him—definitely no pain involved. “Becca…”
“I can make important decisions, and I think my first act as the new shareholder with the majority vote is to get rid of this.” She patted his tie and then brought her fingers to her mouth, letting out a loud whistle. “Gentlemen,” she called out around her. “This man right here is wearing something that clearly violates the Silver Spurs’s dress code, and it needs to be removed at once.”
The crowd erupted in a chant. Cut his tie. Cut his tie.
Shit. Grayson shook his head as Scott came over with the infamous scissors.
“I warned you, man.”
Grayson gazed at Becca, cocking his head. “Get it over with.” He smirked at his opponent to send her a clear message that cutting off his tie didn’t symbolize anything. Those shares belonged to him.
As Scott sliced into the silk fabric, the crowd erupted in applause, and a couple of young cowboys came up to give Becca a high five. Grayson sat back down and finished his drink, watching as she flirted with one of the men, trying on his cowboy hat and laughing all the while.
Why, Dad, would you leave this simple woman your shares? How did she talk you into it?
He stood and walked over to her, touching her arm. Their conversation was not finished.
“You’re still here?” she asked. Her tone held a hint of boredom.
“You had something on him, didn’t you? Were you blackmailing my father?”
“You think I tried to blackmail your dad?” Becca’s face twisted in disbelief. She stepped closer, her voice rising. “Jack Cooper was a caring, decent, kind-hearted man. Do you really think I—or anyone else in this town—would have anything on him?” She motioned to the patrons around them. “Well, do you?”
The crowd went silent, no doubt curious to hear his response.
“There’s no way he would leave this huge responsibility to a college dropout who hasn’t worked a day in a corporate office. That I know.”
Becca stepped toward him, eyes blazing. If she came any closer, he would be able to easily scoop her up in his arms. Not that he even wanted to do that, but he could. “You can take your fancy clothes and your elite business degree and shove it. You’re not getting my shares.” Before he knew what was happening, she’d gone back to their table and grabbed the bowl of guacamole, dumping it over his head. “Maybe the better question is, why didn’t he leave you the shares?” She spun around, grabbed her smock, and marched out of the bar.
Grayson closed his eyes, feeling the chunky dip drip down his face. He took the napkins Meg offered and reached for his wallet.
“It’s on the house.” The waitress handed him more napkins. “You’ve had quite the night.” She leaned in. “I don’t know much when it comes to relationships, but if you’re going to woo her, you might not want to accuse her again of blackmailing your father. Just sayin’…”
“Thanks for the advice.” He shook his head. How had this evening gone so wrong? He should be calling his lawyer by now and celebrating his control of the company. He wiped the last bit of guacamole off his neck. Getting his shares back from this woman was going to be much harder than he’d thought.
End of Excerpt