Hardwired

Author: P Hana

Page 4

   

“And where is he?”

“Unfortunately, my co-founders were unable to attend today, though they very much wanted to.”

“So you’re the only one on your team dedicated to the project right now?”

He arched a brow and leaned back casually into the seat, giving me a better view of his torso. I forced myself not to stare.

“No, I—” I struggled to formulate an honest answer. “We’ve just graduated, so our level of involvement in the coming months depends heavily on the project’s financial stability.”

“In other words, their dedication is dependent on funding.”

“Somewhat.”

“Is yours?”

“No,” I said sharply, immediately defensive at the implication. I had dedicated my life to this project for months, thinking of nothing else.

“Continue.” He waved me on.

I took a deep breath and glanced at my notes to get back on track. “At this juncture, we are seeking an injection of capital for marketing to enhance growth and revenue.”

“What’s your conversion rate?”

“From visitors to registered users, about twenty percent—”

“Okay, but what about paid users?” he interrupted.

“About five percent of our users upgrade to pro accounts.”

“How do you plan to improve that?”

I tapped my fingers impatiently on the table, trying to keep my scattered thoughts on track. Every question he posed sounded like a challenge or an insult, effectively squashing every confidence-inspiring pep talk I had given myself leading up to this meeting. Teetering on the edge of panic, I looked to Max for a sign of hope. He seemed mildly amused by what I imagined was par for the course for Blake. The others stared blankly between their notepads and me, showing no indication of their interest either way.

For a split second I had thought last night’s run-in meant he might go easy on me, but apparently not. Mystery man was turning out to be a bit of a jerk.

“We’ve been focused on building and maintaining the basic membership, which as I mentioned, is growing virally. We recently started to target boutique fashion designers who are marketing their collections through the site. With a solid base of potential consumers, we are hoping to attract more retailers and brands in the industry and increase our paid memberships.”

I paused, bracing myself for another interruption, but Blake’s phone silently lit up, mercifully distracting him. Relieved to finally to be out from under his microscope, I concluded with the competitor analysis and financial projections before my time was up.

An awkward silence descended upon the room. Blake took a sip of his coffee, closed out the screen on his phone, and set it back on the table. “Are you seeing anyone?”

My heart pounded in my chest and my face heated, as if I’d been unexpectedly called on in class. Was I seeing anyone? I stared at him in shock, unsure if I fully understood the implication of his question. “Excuse me?”

“Relationships can be distracting. If you were to get the funds you need from this group, it could be a factor that affects your ability to grow.”

I hadn’t misunderstood him. As if being the only woman in the room wasn’t enough pressure, I had him shining a spotlight on my relationship status. Misogynist prick. I clenched my teeth, this time to keep myself from hurling a string of expletives at him. I couldn’t lose my cool, but I wasn’t about to smile away his inappropriate behavior.

“I can assure you, Mr. Landon, that I am one hundred percent committed to this project,” I said, my voice slow and steady. I met his gaze, doing my best to communicate how unimpressed I was with his approach. “Do you have any other questions pertaining to my personal life that will influence your decision today?”

“No, I don’t think so. Max?”

“Um, no, I think we’ve covered quite a bit. Gentlemen, are you ready to decide on this?” Max grinned and gestured to the others.

The other three men in suits nodded, and one after the next, they voiced their commendation of my efforts and subsequent decision to pass on the project.

Blake looked me in the eye, pausing for a moment before delivering his verdict as casually as he’d devastated my morning. “I’ll pass.”

Panic alarms went off and tears threatened, quickly following by my inner voice. She was crafting a farewell speech for Mr. Landon that included telling him where to go and how to get there. I looked to Max, waiting for the final blow.

“Well, Erica, I think you’ve created a really great community with this, and I would certainly like to hear more. Let’s schedule a time in the next couple weeks for a follow up, and we can get into more of the logistics. After that, we’ll decide if we want to offer you a deal. How does that sound?”

Sweet relief. I wanted to jump over the table and hug Max. “That would be wonderful. I will look forward to it.”

“Great. I think we’re done here then.”

Max rose to chat with the other men before they headed out, leaving me face to face with Blake, who was now smirking at me with that gorgeous smug face. I didn’t know whether to smack him or fix his hair. I had a few other things in mind too. Feeling so conflicted about someone in such a short period of time made me question my own sanity.

“You did well,” he said, leaning in closer.

His voice was low and raspy, making my skin tingle.

“Really?” I countered unsteadily.

“Really,” he reassured me. “Can I take you to breakfast?” His eyes softened, as if we hadn’t spent the past twenty minutes at odds with one another.

Confused, I stuffed my notes back into my bag. Blake was beautiful, but he grossly overestimated his assets if he thought I was going to let him pick me up after that show.

“There’s this great little pub across the street. They do a full Irish breakfast.”

I stood and met his gaze, thrilled by the opportunity to serve him up a little slice of rejection. “It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Landon, but some of us have work to do.”

* * *

“He asked you out?” Alli gushed into the phone. New York City hustled and bustled in the background.

“I guess so.” I was still reeling from the morning events.

“Did you wear your power suit? With the teal blouse?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, stripping the very garment off of me and collapsing onto our futon back at the dorm.

“Well, no wonder. You look amazing in that. Was he hot?”

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