“Well, unfortunately Max’s ambition for drink and women far exceeded his ambition for success in business, but it seems like he turned it around after all. I’m not sure if I was any help there, but perhaps. They can’t all be like you, dear.”
“I’m so worried things with the business won’t work out in the long run,” I admitted, hoping he had some clairvoyance that I lacked.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that you will be successful, one way or the other. If not with this, there will be something else. None of us know where life will take us, but you’re making sacrifices and working hard for your dreams. As long as you stay true to those dreams, keep them at the forefront of your mind, you’re moving in the right direction. At least that’s what I tell myself.”
“Sounds right to me.” My nerves were strung tight in anticipation of tomorrow’s meeting, which would be a make it or break it moment for the business, and for me. I needed all the encouragement I could get.
“I’ll let you know when I figure it all out anyway,” he promised.
I didn’t know whether to be inspired or discouraged, knowing he sometimes felt as aimless as I felt right now.
He shifted his focus back to me. “In the meantime, let’s see what you’ve got for our friend Max tomorrow.” He motioned toward the folder on my lap and cleared a path on his desk.
“Definitely.” I laid out the business plan and my notes, and we set to work.
The receptionist at Angelcom Venture Group gave me a questioning glance before leading me into the conference room at the end of the hall. I checked myself over, making sure nothing was grossly out of place. So far so good. I shrugged.
“Make yourself comfortable, Miss Hathaway. The rest of the group should be arriving shortly.”
“Thank you,” I said politely, grateful the room was momentarily empty. I took a deep breath, trailing my fingers along the edge of the conference table until I reached a wall of windows overlooking Boston Harbor. Awe mingled with my growing anxiety. In a moment I would be face-to-face with a handful of the city’s most wealthy and influential investors, and I felt so far out of my comfort zone, it just wasn’t funny. I took a deep breath and shook out my hands anxiously, wishing my body would relax a little.
I spun around. A young man about my age, with blond hair parted neatly to the side, dark blue eyes, and wearing an impressive three-piece suit, approached me. We shook hands.
“You must be Maxwell.”
“Please, call me Max.”
“Professor Quinlan has told me a lot about you, Max.”
“Don’t believe a word of it.” He laughed, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth contrasting with a tan that made me wonder how much time he actually spent in New England.
“All good things, I promise,” I lied.
“That’s good of him. I owe him one. This must be your first pitch?”
“You’ll do fine. Just remember, most of us were in your shoes at some point.”
I smiled and nodded, knowing the chances of Max Pope, heir to shipping magnate Michael Pope, pitching to anyone other than his father for a measly two million dollars were slim to none. Regardless, he was the reason I was here this morning, and I was thankful. Quinlan had known just the favor to pull.
“Help yourself. The pastries are amazing.” He gestured to the plentiful breakfast buffet along the wall.
The knot in my stomach disagreed. I needed to get a handle on my nerves. I couldn’t even stomach coffee this morning. “Thank you, I’m fine though.”
As the other investors trickled in, Max introduced me, and I did my best to make small talk, silently cursing Alli, my best friend, absentee business partner, and marketing go-to. She could make entertaining small talk with a can of soup, where I had little else on my mind beyond the facts and figures I was prepared to present, which wasn’t ideal for idle conversation with people I’d never met.
When people began to settle at the conference table, I positioned myself on the opposite side, organizing and scanning over my paperwork for the twentieth time. I located the clock on the wall across from me. I had less than twenty minutes to convince this small group of strangers that I was worth investing in.
The rumble of voices quieted, but when I looked to Max for the cue to start, he gestured to the empty center chair across from me. “We’re waiting for Landon.”
The door flung open, and I forgot how to breathe. Holy shit.
In walked my mystery man—six feet of masculine glory—looking nothing like his suited colleagues. His black V-neck highlighted his sculpted shoulders and chest, and his worn out jeans fit his physique like a dream. My skin grew tight at the thought of having those arms around me again, accidentally or otherwise.
Armed with a jumbo iced coffee, he dropped into the seat in front of me, seemingly unaware of his lateness or lack of formality, and flashed me a knowing smile. He was an entirely different person from the dapper professional I’d so luckily fallen into the other night. He suffered from a gorgeous case of bedhead, his dark brown hair spiking every which way, begging for my fingers. I bit my lip in an effort to hide my raw appreciation for the man’s body.
“This is Blake Landon,” Max said. “Blake, Erica Hathaway. She’s here to present on her fashion social network, Clozpin.”
He stilled for a moment. “Clever name. You brought her in?”
“Yes, we have a mutual friend at Harvard.”
Blake nodded, locking me in a penetrating stare that had me instantly flushed. He licked his lips. Was he thinking what I was thinking? I crossed my legs, acutely aware of the sensations he inspired between them. Get it together, Erica. The ball of nervous energy that had resided in my stomach mere seconds ago had exploded into a blinding sexual energy that had me pulsing from my fingertips to my nethers.
I blew out a slow breath and smoothed the lapels on my black suit coat, silently scolding myself for swooning at an incredibly inconvenient time. I stuttered into the presentation. I explained the premise of the site and moved into a brief outline of our year of bare bones marketing and the resulting exponential growth, trying desperately to stay focused. Every time Blake and I made eye contact, my brain started short-circuiting.
Eventually he interrupted me. “Who developed the site?”
“My co-founder, Sid Kumar.”