Authors: Pat Amsden
BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE
By Pat Amsden
Better Than Chocolate
By Pat Amsden
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved including right of reproduction in whole or in part.
Cover Art Design by Rob Williams
Visit the author’s website at www.PatAmsden.com
To Rob who made this book possible
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tall, thin, with an ethereal quality, Elena Tighe stood in front of an easel in the middle of the room. The painting showed light filtering through trees opening up onto a clearing, where a mother and her children enjoyed a picnic together. It was signed
Elena Tighe, as were the other paintings on either side of her.
She turned to her assistant, an expression of delight on her face. But her assistant was nowhere in sight. In her place stood a man. A man who made her eyes widen and her heart beat erratically even as she told herself she was being ridiculous.
“Can I help you?” she asked politely, taking in all six feet of him. Dark haired with chocolate coloured eyes, he was the type of man woman drooled over. And he probably knew it too, she thought defiantly.
“Brad. Brad Phillips,” he said, holding out his hand as if expecting her to know who he was.
“So are you here for coffee,” she said, puzzled. “Or are you interested in the art work?”
“Coffee sounds good,” he said neutrally. “I don’t think I can afford the artwork… Yet.”
She went off into the café area – if it could be called that – emerging a minute later with a hot cup of coffee.
“Didn’t your dad say anything?”
“No,” she said, clearly puzzled, even as she felt a tightening in her throat.
“Oh.” He grinned. “I guess I should stick a bow in my hair. I’m your present.”
“Excuse me?” she said shocked, sputtering. “You’re a present? And you’re OK with this? Really! This time he’s gone too far.”
Brad held up a hand grinning. “I’m not doing a good job of this. I’m here to help you make your business a success.” He grinned disarmingly. “Sort of like a modern day genie.”
“You’re what? I don’t believe this. I told him to stay out of this. This is MY business! MINE!”
He frowned. This was different than he expected, given what Greg had told him. After all Greg Tighe had asked him personally, as a favour.
“My daughter’s opening an art gallery/coffee shop,” he’d said. He’d glanced at the piece of paper in front of him. “In Chemainus. I thought for her birthday I’d send you in to help her.”
“But,” Brad had said. “Why can’t you?” It was an obvious question.
Greg Tighe was a multi-millionaire business man/developer in the Vancouver area. When he touched something it invariably turned to gold. And he was her father.
“I’ve agreed to keep out of it,” Greg had explained. And then he’d grinned. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t give her a present.” Apparently he hadn’t felt the need to share this piece of information with his daughter.
“I’m a business development expert,” Brad explained to her now, pulling a card from his pocket and handing it to her.
“I really can’t believe this. He thinks he can send you over to do his dirty work,” Elena said, furious.
“Dirty work!” Brad said shocked. “He just wants to help you succeed.”
“Oh sure. That’s what he wants you to think. Don’t you believe it!” She stood in front of him, fuming. “He wants control. That’s what he’s always wanted. And he’s using you,” she said, stabbing her finger into his chest, “to get it.”
“Uh-huh,” Brad said, grinning at her, as if clearly believing her deranged. “I don’t report to him on this. He’s not putting any money in. You just get to pick my brains for a bit.”
“Oh no you don’t,” she said turning and wheeling away from him. “I’m not taking advice from anyone.”
“Then you’ll be out of business in six months.”
“Just giving you my professional opinion Princess.”
“And you’re such an expert.”
“Your father thinks so.”
“Really. Then why can’t you afford one of my pictures?”
“I…” There were a thousand retorts he could’ve come up with. Retorts about spoiled brats who had more money than brains and people who had to work for what they had. Retorts about having everything handed to you on a silver platter and not even appreciating it.
Instead he grinned at her. “OK, so I’m choosing not to. But – I am very good at what I do so if you’re smart you’ll at least pick my brains for a few days.”
She stood in front of him glaring and he had the strongest impulse to wrap his arms around her and hold her close. Maybe it was the perfume she was wearing.
Cinnamon and spice with hints of exotic flowers, it made an impression without being over-powering. Maybe it was how she stood there looking so angry and outraged with just a hint of vulnerability. Like an angry wood elf he thought – who’d thrown a spell of enchantment over him.
Elena was less than impressed with his attempt to charm her. Is she was smart she’d send him packing. He’d probably be on his phone to daddy dearest before he made it around the corner. Who cared if he was absolutely gorgeous? And smart. She knew that if her dad had hired him. Who cared if he was looking at her with those gorgeous chocolate brown eyes that were making her melt on the spot?
“So let me get this right? You show up back in Vancouver tonight and say I said thanks, but no thanks, it’s going to be a blot on your career?”
“I can handle it,” he said with a good deal more confidence than he felt.
“But helping me make my business a success would be a huge feather in your cap?”
“It wouldn’t hurt,” he said grinning.
“If I find out you’ve spent one minute communicating with my dad you’re history. Got it. And I’m not necessarily going to take any of your advice.”
“Deal,” he said, a smile washing across his face.
It was a good smile, she thought, feeling her breath catch slightly. A warm and friendly smile, she thought, hoping his effect on her didn’t show.
“So how does this usually work?”
“Depends,” he said, pulling out a chair and taking a seat. “What I’d like to do is get a list of things you want to accomplish. Spend a few days going over your books, finding out your competitive advantage and then work with you to make this a success.”
“You mean find ways to shoot me down,” she said angrily.
He sighed. “Pointing out flaws is part of what I do. If I don’t I’m not much good.”
She could feel her lips quivering, feel tears threatening to spill out. Some businesswoman she was going to make. “I can take constructive criticism,” she said defensively. “I just need something positive as well.”
“Like making your business a success,” Brad said lightly and saw a slight flush spread across her face.
Way too sensitive he thought. For two cents he’d walk away. And at the same time he couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to see her eyes light up and a smile light up her face. “Know of any good hotels in the area?” he said.
“I hear the Sea Sides nice,” she said. “I’d offer you a room, but I’m staying in the loft upstairs.”
He glanced up in surprise, noticing the curtained off area upstairs. “Is that allowed?”
“I haven’t heard any complaints,” she said lightly.
He cursed lightly, under his breath.
Her father was a multi-millionaire and she’d just inherited $75,000 from her grandmother, which was supposed to be fuelling this venture. She could afford a decent apartment or house while the business was going. Something he planned on pointing out to her when he got himself settled. Maybe he could just book her a suite in the hotel while he booked himself in. A quick look at his face told him this wouldn’t be a good idea.
He gave her a slight smile. “I’ll be back this afternoon.” He reached out, flicking a speck of imaginary dust from her cheeks and saw her eyes widen, felt her indrawn breath. “Now’s a good time to sit down and figure out exactly what you want. When I get back we’ll start working on making those dreams a reality.”
She watched him leave. She felt a little like a Cinderella about to be rescued by her Prince. Which was clearly ridiculous. She didn’t need anyone to make her dreams come true. She was a modern woman.
What did he mean by she’d be lucky to last six months? It was her worst nightmare. Ever since she could remember she was the dreamy one, the artist of the family. And that was just fine she thought defiantly.
But a woman had to be able to stand on her own two feet as well. Her grandmother had understood. That’s why she’d left her the inheritance. Seventy-five thousand dollars and more importantly in her mind, a letter telling her to follow her heart, to trust herself.
Her father had wanted her to buy a condo. “I can get you a great deal in the
False Creek area,” he’d said. “You can have a studio in your condo.”
She could almost hear him saying, “You’ll be safe.” He’d hated the idea of an art gallery/coffee shop. “Why? You’re an artist. And a damned good one. I spent a fortune on that fine arts education for you.”
“And I appreciate it dad, I really do,” she’d said. “But I want something of my own.”
He’d given her every reason under the sun why it couldn’t work. “You don’t know what you’re doing, you’re too young, you need experience.” And then he’d tried to take over. “I’ve got gallery space opening up in the West End. It would be perfect for what you want.”
Instead she’d taken a day trip to Chemainus and fallen in love with the little town that could. A town that thrived on a mix of artists and tourists, she’d been drawn in immediately. She been charmed by the murals depicting the towns’ logging history and giving a history of how the town had re-invented itself.
The ‘Little Town That Could’ had come about in the early 80’s, a product of desperation in a time that mills and logging operations were shutting down and loggers were, themselves, becoming an endangered species, in danger of extinction. The mayor had turned things around by commissioning a series of murals to showcase the past while campaigning to get Chemainus on the map as a must see tourist attraction and actively working to help the arts and artists flourish in the small town.
The strategy had succeeded beyond anyones’ wildest dreams and the town now had more artists and artisans per capita than any other area on the island, which was saying something, since Victoria and countless other island towns had always attracted more than their share of artists.
Something not lost on Brad as he walked the main street of Chemainus. She was good, very good, to his untrained eye. There was lightness to her work, freshness. But Chemainus needed another artist about as much as the ocean needed another drop of water.
He could feel his cell phone vibrating and pulled it out. “Brad here.”
“Hi, thought I’d check and see how things are going.” Greg Tighes’ voice came over the phone just a little too casual, just a little too friendly.
“You know I can’t say anything,” Brad said lightly.
“Just a friendly phone call.”
Sure, Brad thought grimly. “I know, but I gave my word. And I keep my word.” There was firmness to his voice that brooked no interference.
“Understood,” Greg Tighe said heavily. “Just as long as you’re successful.”
“It’s what I do,” Brad said, with a good deal more confidence than he felt himself. He turned off the phone decisively and flipped it shut.
Sidney by the Sea turned out to be a charming, turn of the century building which featured spacious rooms, a pool, fitness center and a spa. A restaurant and in-house fax/email service rounded out the package. Not that he planned on spending much time here. For now he’d settle for a shower.
Back at Elena’s, her assistant, Michelle, miraculously reappeared. Newly graduated from the local high school she was a dreamy girl whose mind was usually a million miles away. “So, who was that?” she wanted to know.
“My birthday present,” Elena said, without elaborating.
“WOW! I got tickets to a Hillary Duff concert once.”
Elena laughed, a warm, musical sound. “You don’t understand. He’s a business consultant.” She grinned, “courtesy of dear old dad.”
“Mmm – cute.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Elena said. She sat down at one of the small tables doodling on a small scratch pad.
“I’ve got an audition for Stardust theatre, they’re casting a new play. So is it OK if I take the afternoon and tomorrow off? I need to study my lines, rehearse.”
“Sure,” Elena said. She’d planned on spending the day working preparing the gallery section but considering the number of people they usually got in it wouldn’t be a problem.
On her pad she doodled a much larger gallery and gift shop with a bakery/slash coffee shop whose display case was filled with a mouth-watering assortment of goodies.
It would come, she thought. Even though right now the coffee shop consisted of half a dozen card tables with folding chairs and baked goods consisted of whatever she could talk Mary, one of her regulars, into baking for her. She was, she knew, lucky to have found Mary.