Blind dates would work out so much better if you were actually blind. And deaf. And maybe a hundred miles away.
My head pounds with the remnants of Blind Date, and final date, Number Three’s ridiculous giggle last night.
Each candidate hand-selected by my brother Graham’s secretary-turned-girlfriend-turned-pain-in-my-ass seemed decent at first. All were pretty, fairly intelligent, and each of them were memorable … just for the wrong reasons. It is possible that maybe, just maybe, I just hold them to an impossible standard set by a woman a long time ago. Either way, it is what it is.
“Mr. Landry?” My secretary’s voice chirps through the Bluetooth. “Are you there?”
I take the exit for the freeway and sigh, coming back to reality. “Yeah. I’m sorry, Hoda. I got distracted. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that Graham stopped in a little while ago. He said your cell must be dead because you aren’t answering. He asked me to have you call him as soon as possible.”
“It’s a ploy,” I tease. “He’s just seeing if you’re scared of him.”
She laughs. “I’m pretty sure he already knows that, Sir.”
“He’s a big baby. The whole asshole thing he has going on is just a front.” Graham’s name blinks across the dash. “And now he’s calling me.”
“Please answer it.”
Chuckling, I hover my finger over the call button. “I’ll be back in the office in a few. Talk to you then.”
I click over and don’t get a chance to greet him. He just talks.
“Hey, Ford, I was looking over the numbers and—”
“I hear you’ve been terrorizing my employees again. Can you knock it off? I’m not fucking mine. She might quit.”
“I’m not fucking mine either. I fired her and then moved her in with me. Remember?”
“Gee, that’s right. She—”
“Hi, Ford,” Mallory singsongs into the phone, clearly loving catching me off-guard.
“A little warning would’ve been nice, Graham.”
The Georgia sun is hot and high in the sky, blazing through the windshield of my truck. I’ve been out of the office in meetings with potential clients all morning. I’m desperate to get back to my to-do list, a glass of tea, and some uninterrupted hours of work.
Landry Security is my baby and we’re just getting off the ground. After a couple of tours of duty in the military, something I never expected to be a career, this is my first foray into something all my own. Something I’m in charge of, my brainchild. Although Graham, the CEO of our family’s business, Landry Holdings, was instrumental in putting it together, it’s now all mine. And I love it.
“Before you guys go talking shop, how’d the date go last night?” Mallory asks. “Neither of you called me, so I was hoping that meant it went well.”
“She spent fifteen minutes giving me a dissertation on nail polish, Mal. A quarter of an hour discussing the way the light bounces off reds differently than pinks. And although she volunteered to wrap her legs around my face and let me do my own little experimentation, the conversation was mind-numbing.”
“But,” Graham interjects, “did you do the experimenting?”
“Damn right I did.”
“Just stop it, both of you,” Mallory sighs. “Let’s focus on what matters: you didn’t hit it off?”
“No, we didn’t hit it off. I mean, I hit it and got off, but …”
“I’m starting to wonder whether you really want to find someone or not,” Mallory groans.
I can’t help but laugh. “I told you from the beginning I don’t. I only went along with this blind date BS because you made it a requirement to borrow your yoga studio to train my security guys. Otherwise, I’d be—”
“Hooking up with women with ‘KARMA’ tattooed across the top of their butt cracks,” she deadpans.
Graham’s laugh booms through the truck speakers, making me wince.
“I’m never telling Lincoln anything again. Our brother has no loyalty,” I say, trying not to laugh too. “And for the record, there were butterflies along with the lettering.”
“Oh, that makes it better,” Mallory says, sarcasm thick in her tone.
Graham’s laugh breaks through our banter again. “Sometimes I listen to you two and wonder if you’re the siblings and I’m the outsider.”
“Oh, no, G. You brought her into this family. That honor is all yours.”
“Damn right it’s an honor,” Mallory teases.
I unscrew a water bottle with one hand and bring it to my lips, keeping my eyes on the road as my brother and his girlfriend banter back and forth.
Moments like this remind me of how different things are from what I expected when I was discharged and moved back to Savannah.
My brothers, all three of them, are settling down. Graham has Mallory. Our oldest brother, Barrett, the newly minted Governor of Georgia, has Alison, and Lincoln, the youngest, walked away from a major league contract to marry Danielle.
At least my baby twin sisters, Camilla and Sienna, are as confused about their lives as me.
Mallory clears her throat. “So … how do you feel about one more blind date?”
“I feel like that’s the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard. My debt is paid. Move along.”
“But I saved the best for last,” she promises as I swerve through traffic and let loose a slew of profanities.
“Hey! Where are you?” my brother asks.
I check the overhead signs and relay the information. “Why?”
“Great! This is perfect. Can you do me a favor?”
“Depends on what it is.”
Sliding my truck between two semi’s, I get rewarded with a loud honk from the one behind me. I give him a little wave. He doesn’t know I’ve driven heavy machinery in the middle of gunfire in a war zone. Twice. I do the honorable thing and ignore him flipping me the bird.
“I need you to swing by a place not far from you,” Graham says. “I’ll text you the address.”
“I’m going there for what?”
“To check it out,” he says blankly. “I told them we’d swing by and give them a security plan and estimate.”
“By ‘we’ you mean me.”
The text comes across the screen and I see I’m not far at all from where he needs me to go. Still, I need to get back to the office and have little interest in picking up a small job on the side.
“I don’t really have time for this,” I sigh. “What kind of thing is it? We talking personal security? Business? What?”
He takes a deep breath that worries me. Something about the way he does it causes the hair on the back of my neck to rise, but before I can call him out on it, he replies. “I’m not sure. I just had a quick conversation about it and am doing it as a personal favor to a close friend.”
“I suppose I could send Mike.” I start to mentally go through the schedule and remember where he’s working today and if he can make it to this side of town before the end of the day.
“This is a personal favor, Ford. I need you to go. Not Mike.”
I can’t tell him no. Graham does everything for our family and keeps the businesses running like the well-oiled machines they are. There’s nothing I could ask of him that he would deny. Even though I have no interest in this little mission, I have to do it, and he knows I will.
“Fine,” I groan. “Just check it out and provide some kind of plan?”
“Yeah. Just go and see what you think. I have confidence you’ll work it out when you get there.”
“You owe me, asshole.”
We say our goodbyes as I take the exit I need. Before the country song on the radio is over, I’m pulling up in front of the location.
“He’s got to be kidding me.”
I parallel park my truck across from a row of storefronts. Glancing at my phone, I read the address on Graham’s text again. Then I look back at the numbers just below the mint green awning with the word “Halcyon” spelled out in bright pink letters. The numbers match.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Why in the world would Graham send me here? He knows my business plan and the types of customers I want to attract. This is not it. This is almost disrespectful.
With a groan, I grab my phone and call my brother back and mince no words.
“Are you fucking joking?” I ask. “You sent me to some little shop called Halcyon?”
He tries not to laugh. “I take it you made it.”
“Graham, for fuck’s sake! I’m trying to run a reputable business here and you send me to provide security for a little … whatever this is. A department store? No, it’s not even that.”
“It’s a boutique,” Graham supplies.
“Well, you can call that boutique and tell them Landry Security is booked. I’m not providing some rent-a-cop service.”
“You are going inside and doing a visit because the contract has been signed,” he says carefully.
“I haven’t signed shit.”
“No, but I have.”
I almost come out of my seat. “You can’t do that!”
“I already did.”
“Graham, what the hell?” I say, my blood starting to boil. “Why would you do this? You can’t do this. I’m the CEO of Landry Security.”
He sighs, his irritation as thick as mine. “And I’m the CEO of Landry Holdings, which owns Landry Security. So, in a way, I’m your boss.”
“Apologize to Mallory for me.”
“And Mom. Tell her I’m sorry.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m going to kick your ass.”
He laughs. I don’t.
“There’s already been a deposit paid. Just do the review and then if you really don’t want to do it, I’ll figure it out. But I need you to do this for me.”
I glance at the building again. There is black paper hung so you can’t see in, but white Christmas lights outline the windows from the inside. Next to the door, there’s a sign with “CLOSED” written in red.
“Graham, this is such a waste of my time.”
“Maybe. Possibly. Probably,” he chuckles. “But I’ve committed and I need you to follow through.”
“You need committed,” I mutter.
“Just do it for heaven’s sake.”
“Fine,” I growl, opening the door of my truck and stepping out on the street. Locking up behind me, I stride through the two lanes of traffic to the sidewalk in front of Halcyon.
The bakery next door has its door propped open and the smell of cinnamon rolls takes away some, but not all, of my irritation.
“I’m here,” I let him know. “And when I’m done, I’m coming for you.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“You should run. It’s gonna hurt, brother.”
“I’ll try to prepare myself.”
Rolling my eyes, I end the call and slip the phone back into my pocket. My palm pressed on the bright white door, I give it a gentle shove.