Sneak peek—Will & Virginia
Thanks so much for being interested in Will & Virginia’s story!
This is a peek at the first three chapters. The Billionaire’s Shrubbery will be available on July 10th (if not before) at the special pre-order price of $2.99 for this full-length rom-com featuring a grumpy, sleep-deprived, billionaire hero and a cheerful, nature-loving plant whisperer heroine.
Uber rich people are like the deadly nightshade of gen pop—they might look all pretty and harmless, but they lure you in for a taste of their sweet lives, and then—gotcha!—poison your heart and leave you for dead.
I know this in my bones, and still, I torture myself by working for them. But only because they’re the only kind of people willing to pay what I charge to care for their pretty potted plants. That’s my job, wisteria whisperer to wealthy witches and wolves of West Vancouver.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. I just wish I could do it for people who didn’t look at me like I was some kind of invasive species out to steal their precious resources. So, when I stumble across a cardboard box on the sidewalk as I’m walking to the bus stop, I hesitate to slow down, but … there’s something green peeking above the open top. I try to look casual, like, “I don’t really care what’s in your trash. I don’t need your rich people’s hand-me-downs.”
But, whoah! There are four bonsai trees cuddled up inside. I look around to make sure nobody’s watching and take one out. It looks to be at least a hundred years old, based on the circumference of its trunk. Three others are the same. Then I see the small note with wobbly handwriting:
Free if you promise not to kill them.
I look up at the house beyond the hedge. It doesn’t make sense to put plants like these out on the sidewalk, susceptible to kidnap by any old conifer-killing klutz. I lift the box and carry it up the winding path to the front door. The grass is months past needing to be cut, the garden that edges the long walkway is overrun with weeds. If this was made-for-TV movie, I’d be the heroine who dies in the first scene.
Despite my unease, I ring the bell.
After a long minute, an elderly man answers.
“Oh, good,” he says, nodding at the box in my arms, “you found them before a dog did. I put them out a few minutes ago.”
I don’t know what I expected him to say, but it wasn’t that. “Umm, did you know these trees are precious? And they’re quite tricky to care for. You want to make sure the right person takes them home.”
“Do you know how to care for them, young lady?”
“I do,” I say, “and it’s clear you do too. I don’t understand, why are you getting rid of them?”
He looks me right in the eye and scowls with the expertise of a man who’s been practicing the look for seventy years. “They were my wife’s trees. Her pride and joy. She gave those goddamned shrubs more attention than she gave me. I don’t know how to care for those tiny trees because she wouldn’t let me touch them. Told me I’d kill them. So, I thought, better to rehome the bloody things than have her tut-tutting me from the great beyond.”
The tone in his voice suggests congratulations on his wife’s death are in order, but the pain in his eyes says otherwise. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Well, my loss is your gain. Mabel, my wife, said they were worth hundreds of dollars each. The pots alone are antiques. We bought them in Japan in the 1970s.”
“Not that I wouldn’t love to care for these, but why not sell them?”
“Bah. Money. Do I look like I need more? I’ll be gone long before I can gamble myself into bankruptcy.” He gives me a serious look.
I return a questioning one.
“That was a joke.” He sighs. “Nobody understands my jokes anymore. At least Mabel did. One thing I miss about her—she knew when to laugh.” He taps the edge of the box. “So you like plants and you know how to care for them?”
“I do. I have a graduate degree in botany. Now I run my own plant-care business. I was just heading home from a client up the street.”
He waves his hand. “Put that on the floor. Come in. I’d like to show you my greenhouse. My wife’s greenhouse. Haven’t got a goddamn clue what I’m doing. I just put water on everything and hope that Mabel and I have separate rooms once I shed this mortal coil, or I’ll be spending an eternity hearing about how I killed her babies. God help me.”
“My name is Virginia.” I extend a hand.
He tips his chin. “Henry. Henry Bernard.”
Mr. Bernard leads me through several rooms to the back of his mansion and into the most gorgeous greenhouse I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen my fair share of greenhouses in mansions. This structure was obviously built with love. But the contents? It looks more like a plant palliative care unit with a side of morgue than a greenhouse.
While Mr. Bernard sits in a cushioned, wingback chair reading a book, I spend ninety minutes looking over hundreds of plants, checking soil moisture, making mental notes of which ones might be saved. Most of the pots contain rare varieties of flowers and small shrubs. If Mrs. Bernard was the green thumb her husband claims, my guess is she must’ve passed away several months ago since many of these plants are too far gone. They’ve definitely missed their spring pruning and fertilizing.
“Good news or bad news first?” I ask, pointing to what I assume is the late Mrs. Bernard’s chair beside him.
“Sit,” he says. “Just tell me, do I need to commit murder to secure my place in an easier hell than the one I’m expecting?”
“Well, like people, all plants have a life span. We can’t expect them to live forever—except maybe a well-cared-for bonsai tree. But what you have here?” I wave generally around the room. “There are some unfortunate losses, but a lot of these plants can be saved.”
“And you can do that? Get me back in Mabel’s good graces? We had fifty-five good years together. I’d hate to ruin things now.”
“I can certainly do my best. And I’d hope she’d recognize that if you hired me to do this, you’re doing your best, too, and she’ll forgive a few oopsies.”
Mr. Bernard grunts. “Would you do that for me?”
I nod. And my stomach twists. After three years, I still hate this part of self-employment—asking for money to do something I’d gladly do for free and, most clients could easily pay double my rate for. I steel myself for the puff of air that expresses my rate is too high.
But Mr. Bernard doesn’t puff when I tell him my rate is fifty dollars an hour. He doesn’t wince when I say I need to spend at least twenty hours, preferably within the next few days, to do my best for his plants. And then two hours a week to make sure what we save flourishes.
“Too goddamn much death in my life this past year. That’s a small price to pay to keep what Mabel loved alive.”
“With all due respect to your wife, Mr. Bernard, I’d love to have you work alongside me so you can experience the joy Mrs. Bernard got from caring for these plants. And you might think I’m crazy, but her plants will appreciate it too.”
He scoffs. “You sound just like her. She talked to them like they understood what she was saying. She hated when I cursed in front of them.”
“They do understand. They absorb the energy.”
Mr. Bernard holds eye contact with me for several long seconds, and I wonder if he’s worried his grief has been hurting the plants. I risk it and guess that he’s spent hours each day out here in his well-loved chair. “More would’ve died if you hadn’t sat with them. We’ll make Mrs. Bernard proud, I promise.”
“I’m paying you forty hours up-front since I don’t want to be in your debt if I die between visits. You keep track of your time, and tell me when I owe you more.” He pushes himself to standing. “I’ll get my checkbook.”
I grab an Uber home since I can’t carry the four boxes of plants Mr. Bernard insists I take with me—the bonsai trees, plus all the flowers that are likely too dead to save. He doesn’t want to have to look at them anymore. He told me if I can save the plants, I can keep them. And if I can’t, I should sell the pots and pocket the money.
A few blocks from home, I text my sister, Georgia, and ask her to come out to carry in a few of my prizes.
She meets me at the curb. “Really, Virginia?”
“Just help me get them inside. I don’t want to leave them on the sidewalk for someone to steal.”
“Who would steal boxes of dead plants? And these are going in your room.”
“Chill out. I’m not holding on to many of them. Not for long.”
On the ride home, I looked up the pots the bonsais are planted in. I snapped pictures, and Google Images found their sisters. Mr. Bernard hadn’t exaggerated. Each is valued at over a thousand dollars. They’re pretty, but really, half a month’s rent for one ceramic pot?
Rich people … I’ll truly will never understand them.
I pull the check from my wallet and dangle it for Georgia to see. She eyes it, then me, like it might be counterfeit. She attempts to steal the flimsy paper from my grip, but I snap it away.
“The rent you owe me?”
“The dead plants will pay you back. I’m using this to attend the Come Into Power seminar next month. Deadline to apply is Friday, and this is exactly what it costs. It’s too perfect. Obviously meant to be.”
“Virginia,” she warns, picking up one box and then another, finding her balance. “Another get-rich-quick scheme?”
“Ha. No.” It’s not. “I’m not an idiot.”
Georgia lifts a teasing eyebrow. I’d smack her, but my arms are full as well. “This is an investment—in me, in my future.”
“Yes, because you’re an entrepreneur.” Georgia almost chokes while exaggerating the French pronunciation.
“One day, you’ll see.”
“I’ll see when you’ve paid me all the back rent.” Georgia pushes open the building’s main door with her butt, and I follow her inside, Mr. Bernard’s check burning a hole in my pocket.
The plants from the four boxes cover our kitchen table and the counter beside the fridge. Aside from the bonsai trees, all the other plants really are too far gone to save. It breaks my heart, but I empty their soil into the compost bin in the backyard. Our ground-floor suite is too small for two people, but the giant yard more than makes up for it. And the landlord lets us pay part of our rent in-kind—which means I make sure the gardens are well cared for in exchange for a hundred-dollar discount on my share.
With the pots soaking in the bathtub, I make dinner while my sister hand-stitches the final touches on a 1950s dress pattern in our living room-slash-studio. Unsolvable Crimes: Solved plays in the background. We’ve seen every episode at least twice and have turned the show into a predinner drinking game we call “Truth or Lie.”
To earn a sip of wine, we have to declare whether the criminal is telling the truth or lying, before the narrator voiceover explains how the investigator was able to tell. I am the reigning champion, able to read body language and tone of voice from the first time we watch an episode. Aside from being a plant whisperer, that’s my superpower.
“Instead of wasting two thousand dollars on a weekend listening to a billionaire give you business tips you can learn for free on the internet, I think you should invest in your education—get a certificate in criminology. You could make so much more money than you’ll ever make watering plants.”
Georgia has said this more than once, and I’ve considered it more than once. And yet I always come to the same conclusion: one path is filled with lightness and life and oxygen and hope, the other paved with horror and sadness and the broken lives of victims and their families. Not enough money in all the world for me to take that route, so for now, I leave unsolvable crimes trapped in the frame of our old TV, right where they belong.
Silence is my answer and Georgia redirects the conversation. “Guess who I saw on the mid-day news.”
“Good guy or bad guy?”
“Depends …” she contorts her mouth and wrinkles her nose.
My enthusiasm about the bonsai trees and giant check in my pocket deflates. I know exactly who she’s talking about. “Did he save a bus full of puppies from driving off a cliff?”
Virginia laughs. “Close, actually. He donated his clinic’s services to help something like a hundred dogs that were in a puppy mill.”
I roll my eyes.
“He’s still not wearing a wedding ring,” my sister sing-songs.
The alleged love of my life—Frank—who I fell for sophomore year of university, graduated two years ahead of me. He went on to veterinary school, promising we’d do the long-distance thing, that he’d stay faithful so we could build a real future together after we both finished our respective programs. But he fell for a woman who offered to bankroll his clinic.
I should’ve known better.
If Dad taught me nothing else, it’s that men will always level up, given the chance.
I kick open the door to my penthouse and leave my carry-on for the housekeeper to deal with in the morning. It’s after midnight, and even though my body screams for sleep, my brain is on fire. I turn left from my elevator entrance, down the hall to my bedroom. Dim lights in the ceiling automatically activate a few steps ahead of me.
I hang my suit and pull on a pair of sleep pants, which I never sleep in. Despite living alone, however, I do not walk naked around my condo.
With three brothers who have access to my suite and use it at their leisure, I never know what I’m coming home to after being on the road. And since I’ve been away for six weeks, delivering my Come Into Power seminar in fourteen cities across Canada and the US, the odds of finding my place exactly as I left it are about zero, since cleaners don’t bother to come in while I’m away.
The lights follow me as I walk toward my living space, to the right of the elevator door.
“Hey, bro.” My identical twin brother yawns his greeting from the dark corner of my living room.
“Horse. What’s up?” I can see his shape, but not his face. “Alexa, full lights.”
“You bastard,” he complains, covering his head with a throw cushion.
“Seriously? Me? Why else would you be up after midnight unless it was because you wanted to see my face when I saw what you pricks did to my place?”
I scope the room. My giant TV screen is intact, still mounted on the wall. The white patterns in my sixteen-by-sixteen area rug are still white. I don’t see any tears in my leather furniture. I sniff the air. Smells like nothing, just the way it should.
Horse drops the pillow. “Alexa, lights at fifty percent. I wasn’t sure I’d see you in the morning and I wanted to check in, make sure you’re surviving.”
“And if I say I’m not?” I collapse into the Herman Miller lounge chair beside him. “You going to offer to trade places with me and deliver the European seminars?”
“And have to cut this glorious hair? Shave my beard? Wear a suit and tie every day? Not a chance.”
“When was the last time you needed a security guard at your hotel door to keep the women away? Isn’t that worth a razor and having to dress like a grown-ass man for a few days?”
He shakes his head.
“Seriously, why are you here?” I’m exhausted and my brother’s life of freedom— because he was delivered two minutes after me—is pissing me off.
“We had seven requests for refunds from the San Francisco event. And four so far from Seattle.”
“Take it out of my salary.”
“Not the point. What’s going on?”
Nothing new. Nothing I haven’t been dealing with for a decade. “Nothing a few nights in my own bed can’t fix. Speaking of—” I stand and wave toward the door. “I’ve got to be up at five to go over the notes for the day.”
Horse punches my arm on his way by. “Dinner. My place tomorrow. We’ll all be there.”
He lets himself out, and I fall into my chair.
“It’s twelve fifty-one a.m.”
“Alexa, call Joe.”
“Calling Joe,” the invisible voice replies, followed seconds later by the sound of a phone ringing.
“Hey, Will. You home?”
“Yeah, for a minute.”
“In bed? Ready?”
“Sadly, not. I’m amped. And I have to be up in four hours.”
Joe inhales long and loud, then sighs as he exhales. Being the good Pavlovian dog I am, I mimic him. Then Joe yawns. I open my mouth to copy him, but the trigger doesn’t work. “Fuck,” I moan.
“Not helping yourself, Will. You at least lying down?”
“Ish. There’s no point going to bed. I’ll nap in my recliner. Just do this thing, Joe. I am so done with today. Hey, Alexa, lights off.”
The room darkens but it’s not pitch-black. City light pollution filters into the space. I close my eyes.
“Alexa, share cameras three and four,” Joe says. A tiny blue light from the infrared cameras on either side of my TV come on so Joe, who’s somewhere in Texas, can see me.
I rarely go to bed without his company. He’s on call, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He stays with me until he can see I’m properly asleep. Sometimes it takes him twenty minutes, sometimes two hours, to talk me into the space I need to be to shut off my brain.
Joe has been my live-albeit-virtual personalized sleep and meditation program for almost three years. I rely on him the same way I rely on one espresso an hour to keep me awake during the day.
“Squeeze your eyes closed,” he says, “and open your jaw as wide as you can. Now relax. Deep breath in and hold, two, three, four, five, six, and release.”
What Joe does could be recorded, or I could do it myself since it’s pretty much the same script every single night, except I’ve tried all the apps—even had some developed specifically for me—but they’ve all failed within the five minutes after I finally fall asleep. This is where the real-time, human interaction is critical.
So critical that I pay him a hundred grand a year for his service. He’s worth every penny.
Once he decides I’m adequately relaxed, Joe reads from the sports page of a community newspaper in butt-fuck who-knows-where. It doesn’t matter. His job is to read until I fall asleep. Sports pages—because sports don’t interest me—and teams I know nothing about so I can tune out and not try to remember details about players who might be in the news often because I don’t want to accidentally end up knowing about useless crap.
Our system works.
I don’t know how long he reads, but at some point his voice is replaced by images. And this is why I pay him what is probably the equivalent of three hundred dollars an hour. Because unless that image is redirected, I’ll be wide awake again in seconds with no hope of falling back under. The perils of parasomnia, a clinical sleep disorder that has no cure. But as long as I have Joe, I have relief.
The image of my dad dead in his hotel bed blurs and refocuses, this time with Dad lying on a beach blanket beside Mom while my three brothers splash in the ocean as I watch the scene unfold from above. And then Horse calls me, “Will, I need you!” and I join the beach scene, feel the water around my ankles, the sand between my toes as I join my twin in chasing our youngest brother Aiden, who laughs and hollers and swims toward seaweed, floating on the waves.
* * *
Alexa’s gentle morning voice prods, “Will, it’s time to wake up,” followed by the sound of running water. Suddenly, I need to pee. The lightening sky tells me I’ve slept through the night—or at very least, the very early morning.
I shower, dress, and down my first of a dozen espressos of the day. Then I check messages on my phone before heading to my office to go over the notes for today’s Come Into Power seminar. I have a single text. No surprise, since everyone I know other than Joe is still asleep.
JOE: Reminder—our contract expires in 30 days.
He’s given me ninety- and sixty-day warnings to inform me he’s quitting. Apparently, the middle-of-the-night calls are ruining his marriage. Same negotiating tactic he used last year that resulted in a $25,000 raise. I’ve already decided to bump him to $120,000.
I delete the message and don’t think of it again.
It’s the last hour of the last day of the Come Into Power weekend, an event I’ve paid $2000 to attend. Why? Because Will Power, the king of business coaching, is here in my home city, and I need his help to grow my plant whisperer business.
So when he yells out to the audience that he has time for one more hot seat, one more chance to volunteer for live, one-on-one coaching with him, I know I need to stand out like a sunflower in a field of daisies to be noticed in this crowd of a thousand.
“One more lucky entrepreneur is about to have their life changed!” Will Power barks into his invisible mic.
A thousand people yell, “Yeah!”
I cheer as loud as the people around me.
“I want to wrap up this exceptional day of learning with a coaching experience you will never forget.” He pumps his fists in the air. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah!” A thousand eager entrepreneurs pump our fists in the air.
“Female entrepreneurs. Have I got your attention?”
A much quieter chorus fills the auditorium.
This is good.
“Female entrepreneurs with at least three years of sales, please stand.”
This is very good.
The lights come up a little, but not full on. I rise from my seat with confidence and look around. Fewer than a dozen of us are on our feet. The audience is easily ninety percent men, and so far the only woman who Will Power has invited to coach live asked for help choosing between her two businesses. It was fascinating to watch how he figured out which one stood the best chance of becoming successful and what she’d need to make that happen.
But none of it applied to me.
This is my opportunity—my now or never.
In a moment of divine inspiration, I pull my phone from the pocket of my A-line dress, hold my arm high in the air, and shine the flashlight right over my own head. No way he won’t see me.
Interrogate me, Mr. Power.
Will Power looks from his left to his right and makes eye contact with me. “You, in the spotlight. Nicely played. Shows courage and drive. Let’s get this done.”
I inhale a deep breath and walk with my head high, arms loose at my sides like I belong here.
I am a winner. I am making shit happen. Nothing will stop me from success.
I quote the mantras Power has us chant after each live coaching.
I reach him on the stage. Everything about him is bigger than life, from his height (reportedly, six foot four) to the breadth of his shoulders (twenty-three inches of pure muscle, according to an article in Inc. magazine) to the power that radiates from him (nuclear). He reaches out his arm. I do the same, making certain my handshake is as firm as it can be inside his baseball glove–size hand.
A tingle of energy runs through my palm as our hands and eyes meet. I smile, feeling like he’s just transferred some of his magical business success genes straight into my body.
“What’s your name?”
“Virginia Beach,” I say with a smile and a nod.
“Virginia Beach,” he repeats. He looks me up and down. “You look more like a Virginia Rainforest to me.” He moves away, waving at my bright green, leaf-patterned dress.
Chuckles from the audience.
This is part of being in a hot seat—having to withstand scrutiny and hard questions, hard truths.
Bring it on. I’m ready.
I take a steadying breath and shift my weight toward Mr. Power just a little, projecting unwavering aplomb. I hope.
“Virginia,” he says in a most condescending tone, “did you not get the event prep email, the one that said to dress in business casual?” Will Power holds a mic out to me. I take it and tilt my chin, trying to forget about how many eyes are staring at me.
“I did. But given my line of work, I thought business formal would be more appropriate.”
Mr. Power’s eyes widen, and he barks out a laugh, repeating my words, “Business formal. And what business are you in, Virginia?”
“I’m a botanist. I take care of people’s house plants.”
I’ve learned, listening to others on stage all weekend, to be brief so the king of coaching will have more time to impart his wisdom in my ten-minute block.
“Ah. I see. So this getup makes a little more sense.”
I smile. “Yes.”
“That was sarcasm, Virginia.”
More laughs from the darkness.
“Why are you dressed in this … well, frankly ridiculous costume? Do you think it makes you more credible as a plant whisperer if you look like a field of … what kind of plants are those?”
“Caladiums. More commonly known as Angel Wings,” I say, trying not to quiver.
“So, is that your logic here? Look like a plant to convince clients you speak their language?” Derision drips from his words. “May god help you.”
I drop my arm, the one with the mic, and quietly say, “The plants like it. I dress for them.”
“Did everyone hear what Virginia just said?” Power booms, scaring me a step away from him. He grabs my arm and pulls me back.
A chorus of enthusiastic noes fills the air.
“Virginia Beach is dressed to impress the plants she waters.”
I knew that by coming onstage, I’d risk embarrassment. But humiliation? I’ve seen him coach nineteen other people during this two-day conference. Sure, he’s gotten a laugh or two at the expense of the entrepreneur on stage, but I had no idea how different it would feel to be on the receiving end of his ribbing.
I expected him to talk about my business. Ask me about my model, my income, my marketing, the way he has with every other entrepreneur he’s coached today. Never in a Giant Sequoia’s lifetime did I think the focus would be on my damn dress. A dress, by the way, that I love and look damn good in.
After the laughter dies, Power continues.
“Who are your clients, Virginia?”
“People in the top one percent income bracket who want someone to come in once a week to water their plant babies. I have a few who have me visit monthly to make sure all their plants are healthy and happy.”
He holds up his hand to stop me from talking. “Healthy and happy? To make sure their plants are happy?”
“She nodded, folks. All right. And what was your gross earning last fiscal year, Virginia the plant whisperer?”
“Twenty-two thousand.” I hold the mic to my mouth so the cynics can hear I actually do have a viable business.
“I am deeply impressed,” Mr. Power says.
If there’s sarcasm in his answer, I choose not to hear it.
“And what is your financial goal?”
“Fifty thousand,” I say with more confidence. This is where the humiliation will be worth it since he’ll impart some golden nugget that will help me level up. This is why Will Power brings in a quarter million dollars every time he steps onto a stage. Why, of the thousand people in the room today, one hundred or more will pay another $20,000 to join his executive coaching program, which isn’t even led by him but by a team of handpicked staff.
Power tents his fingers in front of his face, looking me up and down, examining me like he’s truly considering a strategy for me. But then he shakes his head, inhales deeply, and takes off his black suit jacket.
“Remove your belt,” he demands.
I think I mishear him. “My belt?”
What is he planning to do? Screw some sense into me? I mean, that would be something I could imagine he’d say, but actually do? On stage? In front of a thousand people?
I don’t move.
“Belt. Off. Now.” He hangs his jacket on two fingers and reaches toward me.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, work with me, Virginia Beach.” He grabs the buckle and gives it a twist, and it comes free in his hand. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
I want to melt into the stage. I try to step away, but for a second time, he holds me in place.
“You paid almost ten percent of your gross income to be here today. You came up on stage wanting to make the most of that investment. I applaud your courage. Now, stand still and listen. Put this jacket on.”
Will Power, the world’s most bombastic billionaire motivational speaker, turns me around and helps me into a suit jacket that probably cost more than my rent for an entire year.
It’s huge on me. I disappear in it.
“Do up the buttons. Cover that ridiculous dress. And put your belt on over top.”
I do as he commands. He steps back and looks me up and down again. “Right arm.” He takes it before I have a chance to move and rolls up the sleeve so my hand is visible. Then he does the left.
He waves to the darkness offstage. “Savannah, get out here. I need your hair elastic.”
His stage assistant walks toward us, pulling her glossy black hair out of its bun. It falls in a mess around her shoulders, but she smiles and hands her boss the hair band.
“That Bozo the Clown hair is not helping your business. Do you know how to use one of these things?”
I glare at his chest, too embarrassed to look him in the eye, and pull my shoulder-length hair behind my head to tie up the wild curls—a couple twists will keep the hair tight against my head.
“Better. Now, face the audience.”
I turn, certain my cheeks are as red as my hair.
“If you want to double your income, you need to dress like an entrepreneur, not a circus performer to the sick and leafy. The plants do not hire you. People with healthy cash flow do. So I know you have a market that has income to spend on non-necessities. But this”—he lifts the hem of his jacket to show my skirt—“is why you’re not earning your full potential. Dress to impress the people who put checks in your hand. I guarantee your business will grow.” He nods to Savannah again.
She rejoins us onstage, as she does after each coaching session, her hair again in its demure bun. How many long-haired stage minions are hidden in the dark? Savannah takes the mic and my elbow and whisks me out of the spotlight.
“Let her keep the jacket,” Power calls as I walk away. “A reminder of the day Will Power changed. Her. Life.”
The crowd goes wild.
Savannah leads me down a hallway to a door that opens into the lobby.
“You can go back to your seat,” she says with a warm smile.
I don’t stay for the wrap-up. I know it will be the sales pitch for his executive coaching program. Sure, there will be drinks and networking after today’s event, and these people are my perfect clients. At least a few among them will have the resources to hire someone like me, if they’re plant lovers. That was one of the reasons I’d used to justify paying to attend this event. I have professional business cards and my sales patter perfected.
But now? The last thing I want is to have any more strangers looking and laughing at me.
I hurry to the coat room and collect my purse and jacket, leaving my notebook behind at my seat.
* * *
“It was horrible!” I tell Georgia. “He didn’t focus on the way any of the men were dressed. He’s a sexist asshole. I can’t believe I threw away all that money.”
Georgia is six years older than me and shares my normally positive disposition. “One day when you’re rich and famous, this will be a great story in your memoir.”
“You’d think!” I stand, anger even stronger now. “But no, because we all had to sign nondisclosure agreements before being allowed in. We’re not allowed to talk about what happened inside that auditorium in any public forum.”
“If you do?”
“Well, the jacket’s worth a pretty peony.” She makes a goofy face. The one she uses to cheer me up. We love puns, but that one has been used to death. “If you can prove it was owned by the High and Mighty Will Power, I bet you can make your money back.” She waves for me to give it to her. “Let me try it on. It will be as close as I ever get to touching a billionaire.”
I pull the jacket from the back of my kitchen chair.
“Ooh, shivers,” she jokes. Georgia does up the buttons. “So, do I look like a million bucks? Maybe instead of selling it, we should rent it out.”
“Or maybe you should tailor it so it actually fits me, and I should wear it to some hoity-toity event, get myself photographed in it, and make sure Mr. “Pill” Power sees me in it. I’d be interviewed, and the only quote I’d give the paparazzi would be, ‘This jacket changed. My. Life.’ Then I’d roll my eyes.”
Georgia pulls off the Power suit and smooths it on her cutting table. She flips it over, turns it inside out, puts it the right way again. “I could totally tailor this for you. Want me to?”
“Why the hell not? I imagine there’s something in the NDA fine print that would have me arrested if I tried to sell or rent it using his name. But he did gift it to me in front of a thousand people, so it’s not like he could sue if I made it fit me. Right?”
Georgia shrugs. “Damn it, Virginia, I’m a seamstress, not a lawyer,” Georgia says in her best impression of Dr. McCoy from Star Trek.
“But you can tailor it?”
“Not so much tailoring. I’ll take it apart and start fresh with the pieces. It’s so big, I won’t have any problem.” Georgia continues to fuss with the jacket while I make dinner.
“Hey, check this out.” She waves a small gold-colored card at me. “It was in a pocket like I’ve never seen before in a man’s suit jacket, just big enough to hold one business card.”
I take it from her.
“Oh. My. Goddess.” The air leaves my lungs. “It’s his golden ticket.”
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If quirky, witty banter between a heroine who’s superpower is talking to plants and a hero who’s approach to conversation is barking motivational quotes sounds like your kind of couple, you’ll love meeting Virginia Beach and Will Power in this steamy, enemies to lovers, workplace, billionaire rom-com.