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"Come on, you worm-slurping pile of —"
Tyler Hendrix looked up from the handheld boom mike he'd been fighting with and saw Miriam Ashley, co-owner of First Impressions Branding & PR, in the doorway of his office. From her vantage point, she seemed unsurprised by Ty's colorful string of profanity.
He gave a respectful salute from behind his desk. "Hey, boss."
Miriam rolled her eyes and ambled into the room, her very pregnant belly preceding her by a good half-mile. "Are you planning to drop the 'boss' thing anytime soon?"
Ty grunted in response but set the mike down on his desk. She'd been his boss for more than six years. Even though Ty was now a partner in First Impressions and the head of their new offshoot video studio, he'd probably always see her as the one in charge.
"You're officially Speak Up's first guest of the day," he said as Miriam eased into the chair in front of his desk. "I'd offer you a drink, but all I have is lukewarm beer left over from the open house party."
"Tempting, but I'll pass," she said. "Actually, I just came by to remind you about my sister-in-law. You're renting her the conference space for some after-hours sales parties?"
"Right, yeah, of course." Ty said a silent thank you for the reminder. Setting up a brand new company in a brand new space had been hell on his schedule. What was the deal with the sister-in-law again? Tupperware parties or something. It didn't matter much to him, as long as she paid rent on time and left the room tidy afterward. He picked up the mike again and began wrenching on it. If the damn clip would just —
"I hope you don't mind, but I told her you'd give her a few tips," Miriam said.
"Sure," he muttered. "Don't buy boom mikes from discount photo supply websites."
"Tips about business," Miriam clarified. "I told her everything you've done to get this place up and running, and she was hoping to pick your brain a little."
"Sure, no prob." He stole a covert glance at his watch, trying to remember when his next client was due. An hour, maybe? God, he was so far behind on email and —
"I have to run, but nice job here." She started to heft herself out of the chair, and Ty jumped up to lend a hand. She waved him off and rested a hand on her belly. "Please. Even if I can't go more than ten minutes without peeing, I can still launch myself from a chair to run the universe."
"Peeing and running the universe sounds like the pinnacle of multi-tasking."
She grinned and ambled toward the door. "The place looks great, Ty. Nice work."
"Thanks." He tried to keep his voice even, but the compliment made his chest balloon with pride.
As she vanished out the door, he sat back down and booted up his computer, toggling to the client management software. He scrolled until he found details on his first appointment of the day. L.E. Birmingham was the owner of a company called Pin Action. They manufactured custom bowling balls and other accessories for the avid bowler. Not really Ty's cup of tea, but he'd done his homework. The guy wanted a full multi-media plan, and Ty already had a spreadsheet full of ideas.
Footsteps in the hallway pulled his attention to the door. He looked up to see a stunning blonde wearing a red dress that hugged every luscious curve. She had legs that went on for miles and hair that slid over her shoulders like a golden curtain. Her eyes were the most mesmerizing shade of blue he'd ever seen, and when she smiled at him, Ty knocked the keyboard onto his lap.
"Are you Ty the video guy?" She gave a tense laugh. "Sorry. I didn't mean to make a poem out of your name. I'm a little nervous. I'm L.E."
This was L.E. Birmingham? Ty's voice had stopped working, so he bought himself some time by righting his keyboard and shoving the boom mike to the edge of his desk. That's what he'd tried for, anyway. He pushed too hard and the mike hit the floor, making them both jump.
Ty stood up. "You're L.E."
"In the flesh."
Do not think about her flesh. Do not think about her flesh.
"I'm so sorry," Ty said. "I wasn't expecting you quite yet."
Her cheeks pinkened, and she touched a hand to her chest. "Oh, no. It's my fault. I'm sorry. I emailed asking if I could swing by early, and I thought —"
"No, it's fine." He waved her into the room, annoyed with himself for coming off like a disorganized jackass. "Totally my fault," he said. "I've gotten a little behind on email, but it's fine. Come on in. Everything's fine."
Jesus, Ty. Say "fine" one more time so she thinks you're a monosyllabic idiot.
He cleared his throat and extended his hand. "Sorry, let me start again," he said. "I'm Ty. Welcome. It's great to meet you, L.E."
"Likewise," she said and took his hand.
Her grip was firm, but her palm warm and soft. Ty caught a whiff of something flowery and did a quick reshuffle in the part of his brain that expected the owner of a bowling ball company to smell like sweaty shoes and beer. Holy shit. He'd pictured a balding guy with a paunch, not a stunning blonde with eyes the color of the ocean.
You are officially a presumptuous, sexist asshole, he told himself. There's one more trait you got from your old man.
"Thanks for coming by, L.E.," Ty said when he finally gained control of his mouth. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, thank you. You're very kind, but if I start chugging water, I'll just have to pee, and then —" She grimaced. "Sorry. I don't usually talk about pee within seconds of meeting someone. Did I mention I'm nervous?"
Ty laughed, utterly charmed by her. It wasn't the first time he'd had a client confess shyness in the presence of so many video cameras, or even the first time in the last fifteen minutes that someone in his office had talked about peeing.
But it was the first time he'd felt so undone by a client.
"No need to be nervous," he assured her. "The cameras aren't on, and I promise I don't bite."
Not unless you ask me to, he thought, then wanted to kick himself again. Get a hold of yourself, Hendrix.
"Have a seat." He gestured to the chair Miriam had just vacated and tried not to stare at her legs as she settled herself and crossed one lush calf over the other.
L.E. rested her hands in her lap, glancing around the room. "This is a nice space. I hope you don't mind, but I peeked around a little. The restrooms, the conference room — all the décor in this place is amazing."
"That's all Miriam and Holly," he said. "The co-owners of First Impressions. I'm just here to run the new offshoot video studio and visual media lab."
"Speak Up, I know," she said. "I've heard all about it. It's an impressive endeavor, growing the business like that."
"It's a lot of work, but we're up to the task." Ty cleared his throat and commanded himself not to stare at her like some love-struck teenager. God, L.E. Birmingham would look terrific on camera. His brain was already whirling in a hundred new directions, thinking about video marketing strategies and whether she'd be game for being a public spokesperson for the Pin Action brand. What a great angle to add oomph to a fairly dull-sounding product line.
"Let's talk about your business," he said. "How long have you been running it?"
"Let's see ..." Her brow furrowed, and she lifted a hand to sweep a few strands of golden hair behind one ear. "I started the company with just a small online presence when Henry was five. That's my son — he's six now and in first grade. Anyway, the company sort of took off several months ago, and sales have been going crazy."
"I heard about that," he said, ordering himself to stop having lewd thoughts about her. The woman was a mother, for crying out loud, which probably meant she was married. Even if she wasn't, Ty had a strict policy against dating single moms. No way in hell was he opening that can of worms.
Still, he dared a glance at her ring finger, surprised to see it bare.
Focus on her face, jackass.
Ty met her eyes again and cleared his throat. "You've got some impressive numbers."
"Thank you." Her expression was surprised and pleased all at once. She settled against the back of her chair and relaxed. "I'm very passionate about the business," she added.
"I can see that." Ty did his best not to consider what else she might be passionate about. He was a professional, dammit. One who stayed the hell away from single mothers for their own damn good.
He rested his hands on the desk and did his best to focus on bowling balls. Not sea-blue eyes or mile-long legs or beautiful blondes who smelled like flowers. Bowling balls.
"Tell me more about the company," he said.
Ellie Sanders crossed her legs and tried to focus on this business meeting instead of on the stupid-hot video guy with brawny arms and eyes so dark he must have ordered them from a catalog to match his jet-black hair. Her new dress itched like crazy, and she wasn't sure whether to play it cool or to dive in and talk about dildos.
Because that's what she needed to do. Her brother's wife had arranged for Ellie to rent the conference room for her after-hours parties, but she'd also urged Ellie to pick Ty's brain.
"He's one of the sharpest visual marketing experts I've worked with," Miriam had told her over dinner. "Super straightforward and no-bullshit, plus he's got tons of experience getting a new business up and running. You'll love him."
The fervor in Miriam's voice had made Ellie nervous. "You're positive he won't mind talking about a sex toy business with a total stranger?"
"Positive," Miriam had assured her. "The guy doesn't faze easily."
So here Ellie was, feeling more than a little awkward. It was the first time in weeks she'd worn anything besides yoga pants, and it was clear she'd gone way overboard in her effort to dress like a professional. But at least she'd made it here, and Ty seemed willing to talk business strategy. She'd only planned to pop in and introduce herself, maybe check out of the space. Miriam must have asked him to give Ellie some special treatment.
Hottie video guy was talking again, so Ellie reminded herself to pay attention. And maybe to start thinking of him as Ty and not "hottie video guy."
"I had to admit I was taken aback when I visited your website," he said.
Ellie clutched the armrests on her chair. "You already visited my website?"
God, please don't let him be a prude.
She sat up straight and did her best to look like a smart, capable, professional woman and not a perv.
"It was very eye-opening," he said. "I had no idea there were so many different styles and colors and options available."
Ellie smiled and tried not to sag with relief. "We pride ourselves on having something for everyone," she said. "After all, no two people have the same tastes and preferences and turn-ons, so it's important to offer something to make everyone happy."
Was it her imagination, or did his eyes widen a little when she mentioned turn-ons? Maybe she should be playing this cool, not getting too explicit about any of Madam Butterfly's products.
"I see what you mean about being passionate about your products," he said. "I'm betting that really shines through to your customers."
"I hope so," she said. "I'm just getting started with the more face-to-face stuff, instead of just online marketing. To be honest, I wasn't sure that's the way to go."
"I can tell within five minutes of meeting you that you made the right call," he said. "The personal touch goes a long way in your business."
"That it does." Ellie smiled and tried to figure out if he was making a sex-toy joke or just being professional. Hello, awkward.
"I was impressed by some of the new products the company is rolling out," he said.
She nodded, amazed he'd done so much homework. Miriam wasn't kidding about how seriously he took his job. Ellie tried to think of something smart to say about Madame Butterfly's new offerings. Something Ty might relate to.
"The new Gentleman's Choice line will take some guys' game to a whole new level." Ugh. She wanted to kick herself. Would he take that as a come-on?
But Ty just smiled and folded his hands on the desk, and Ellie tried not to ogle his biceps. Or his forearms. Or his chest. Or — really, she should just study his pencil holder or something.
"I was noticing that new glow-in-the-dark line," he said. "There's some terrific visual marketing appeal there."
"That's a great point." Dammit, she should have brought a notepad or something to write this stuff down.
Ty picked up a letter opener and tapped it a few times on the edge of his desk before setting it down again. "If you're open to making a few videos, we could do some cool things in the studio with the glow-in-the-dark stuff. Maybe switch off the lights and have you hold one up and move it around a little. It's not too heavy for that, is it?"
Ellie laughed and shook her head. "No. It's definitely one of our biggest models, but I can handle it."
Ugh, did she sound too eager? He was right — the new Glow Bright Joy Stick vibrator was an awesome product, but no way in hell was she waving one around on camera. Showing it at a party was one thing, but video was different. Besides being camera shy, she didn't want to sit there in the carpool line wondering if the other moms had watched footage of her wielding a giant, glowing penis.
But if an average, slightly-exhausted single mom could embrace her sexuality and talk candidly about adult products, maybe she'd inspire other women to do the same.
"I guess I'm open to considering video," she said carefully. "Is there a way to, um ... keep it subtle?"
"We'd play it however you like," Ty said, shoving his shirt-sleeves up and distracting Ellie with his arms again. "The important thing is for customers to actually see the products. I also think you'd get a lot of mileage out of how-to videos."
Ellie swallowed hard. This was not what she'd expected, but she wanted to keep an open mind. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe something where you showcase some of the different techniques. Like I was reading up on 'angle of entry' and how not everyone understands the importance of that."
"Oh. Right, yes, it's very important." Ellie forced herself not to frown. He was offering free advice, so it wasn't her place to shut him down. And he'd clearly done his homework if he knew about Madame Butterfly's line of g-spot vibrators angled for maximum pleasure. It was true plenty of women didn't know how that worked. Maybe an educational component would be helpful.
He was still talking, so Ellie told herself to listen instead of fretting about the prospect of starring in some trashy late-night cable TV infomercial. She could politely decline later, right?
"Reading about the angle of entry stuff was actually pretty fascinating," he continued, "I had no idea a four or five-degree shift can have such a huge impact on the strike pocket."
Strike pocket? Huh. Plenty of her customers used cutesie slang terms for their vaginas, but that was a new one on her. Ellie licked her lips. "It certainly makes a difference," she said. "The sensation is totally different when you have it just right."
Ty grinned and flattened his hands on the desk, and Ellie ordered herself not to stare at them. God, how long had it been since she'd been groped by anything that wasn't battery-powered? Much too long if she was breaking out in hives just sitting three feet from an attractive man.
"I was reading up on some of the other industry terminology," Ty continued, and Ellie snapped her gaze back to his face. "Have you ever thought about writing a few educational blog posts?"
"Blog posts?" Ellie folded her hands in her lap. "What did you have in mind?"
"Maybe something about whether you're a squeezer or a stroker and how that might impact your overall ball handling."
"Oh." Ellie flushed, surprised he'd gotten so graphic so quickly. Not that she was complaining. It was refreshing, honestly, to be around a man who was so candid about sexuality. "I hadn't thought about doing anything quite that specific. You think there'd be enough readers who'd find it interesting?"
"Definitely. Your customers are hungry for information. They're looking for something no one else is giving them, so there's no sense beating around the bush."
Excerpted from "The Hook Up"
Copyright © 2017 Tawna Fenske.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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