I prefer my first meeting with a client to take place in my conference room with the fantastic view of both ocean and mountain. I pay an obscene amount of money for the space, and it pays me back by distracting people long enough for me to pitch them before they can tell me exactly what they want. The convolutions and permutations that cause people to desire something simply because they saw it presented a particular way, at a particular time, or in a particular place is like alchemy, and if I can prevent my clients from giving me the formula for lead, I can usually turn their products to gold.
Unfortunately, Gloriana Llewellyn (her real name; I checked) had insisted our introduction take place at a coffee shop in a rundown part of the city. I’d have passed on the invitation, but I couldn’t let such a big – and interesting – fish get away. Whether she hired me or not, meeting her would be a win in my book. For someone who had rocked the fashion and business worlds simultaneously, she was incredibly reclusive. No one outside of her staff had ever met her in person.
The scent of perfectly roasted coffee reminded me that my own complex brew system had sputtered and failed. The aroma of cinnamon and sugar made me crave whatever contained them, though I’m not usually a sweets guy. Those twin desires pulled me to the counter before I even looked around for my potential client.
“Happy Yule!” The barista had her back to me, red and white ribbons turning her curlicue braid into a candy cane. She pulled shots with glee, gestured to the lucky recipients, then approached me with a smile that would have made a younger man’s knees weak.
Oh, who am I kidding? Despite the reindeer antler headband and Christmas moose sweater, she was a knockout. I was instantly smitten. That hadn’t happened in a long time. Seemed like a gift in and of itself, albeit one she would never realize she’d given.
“What do you want today?” she asked.
For some reason, everything I truly wanted tried to escape my mouth at once, resulting in me stammering the way I had as a kid. She didn’t rush me, and her smile never wavered.
I took a breath, smiled back at her, and said “Espresso, please.” I glanced at her nametag and burst out laughing, certain her name was not really Possum.
“Find a table. I’ll bring it over to you.” Her voice was smooth and dark, the way melted chocolate felt.
I shook my head, wondering when my inner poet had escaped, and turned to find a spot that would be relatively quiet so I could go over my notes on the mysterious Ms. Llewellyn. In an age of instant fame and digital surveillance, it seemed impossible that she could have remained anonymous. It was also the best marketing gimmick imaginable.
Possum brought me coffee and the cinnamon roll I’d forgotten to order. She put a tiny candy cane on the edge of the saucer. “That’s for later, for memories and dreams.”
Her words opened a flood in my mind – all the dreams I’d set aside to climb to the top of my career, all the memories of loves who had left because my focus was elsewhere. I choked on my coffee.
Possum patted my back, soothing my turmoil.
What have you done to me? I blushed when I realized I’d spoken aloud.
She sat down across from me.
“I’m expecting someone. A business meeting.”
“I know. As for what I’ve done, I must apologize. I needed to see what sort of man you were before I decided whether your words would be worth hearing.”
I blinked owlishly. “You’re Gloriana Llewellyn.”
She inclined her head as a queen might. “Indeed. I was only playing Possum.”
I groaned at the pun, causing her to laugh – like tiny bells ringing – which made me laugh, too.
When we managed to get a hold of ourselves, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I think you’ll do nicely, Mr. Farenthold.”
For the first time in ages, I wanted to be nice, as well.