LOVE AT FIRST sight was never a wise decision, but Silver Tesdal couldn’t help herself. Sure, the Airstream was a few years old, with a couple of exterior dents and a messed-up interior in need of complete refurbishing, but still, the lines, the space. It was everything she’d wished for. She would need a three-quarter-ton truck to tow it and more staff, but she could make that happen—at least in her dreams.
There was a second, smaller Airstream in even worse condition, but the twenty-three-foot length would be perfect for low-key affairs. She could already picture what the two would look like refurbished and sporting her AlcoHaul company logo.
She leaned back in her desk chair and smiled. Right now her “company” had exactly one full-time employee—her. She hired any staff she needed on a per-job basis. But, she thought longingly as she looked at the For Sale listings on her computer, with the Airstreams, all that would change. She would need someone to run each of the new trailers, which meant a second and third employee, and hey, the money to meet payroll.
But first she had to buy the trailers, fix them up, get a couple of trucks to tow them from venue to venue and make sure she had enough bookings to make it all worthwhile. She’d run the numbers and she could do it and still turn a profit... In time. As for making it all happen now, when the trailers were available, for that she needed a loan. And while she loved her some Airstreams, she was less excited about dealing with banks.
Silver shut down her browser and picked up the slim, black leather briefcase she’d bought for eight dollars at an estate sale a couple of years ago. She wasn’t the briefcase type, but since starting her business, she’d realized there were times she had to fit in with the conventional world. The briefcase helped her fool those who would otherwise judge.
She slipped in her wallet and her phone, then smoothed the front of her black pencil skirt before heading to the door to her loft. Today and today only, she’d traded in jeans and a tank top for a skirt, silk shell and cropped black blazer. She had applied conservative makeup and had pulled her long blond hair back into a French braid. Faux gold studs and black pumps with three-inch heels completed her transformation. She felt stupid, but knew appearances mattered. Dumb but true.
Ten minutes later, she pulled her truck into the parking lot of California First Savings and Loan. She had already been turned down by three other banks. If California First didn’t give her a loan, then she was screwed.
“Not screwed,” she murmured to herself. “If I don’t get the loan, I will go on as before. I’m doing great and whatever the outcome, I’m going to be completely and totally fine.”
Only she wanted the Airstreams. She wanted to grow her business and be more than anyone had assumed was possible. She was just a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks who had made a lot of stupid decisions along the way. Being able to expand her business meant proving to herself that she’d left all that behind. And yes, there might be a bit of neener-neener to those who had told her she would never amount to anything, but that was just a bonus.
She walked into the bank and headed directly to the executive offices. Her appointment was with Libby Saunders, the vice president in charge of commercial lending. Silver had met with her once before, when she’d applied for the loan, and today they were to discuss the outcome of the loan committee meeting. Despite Libby being the mother of one of Silver’s closest friends, the thirty minutes with Libby had been tense and awkward.
Libby couldn’t have made it more clear she disapproved of Silver, of her business and the viability of her business plan. Silver had been determined to defy the odds. She’d rerun the numbers, had lowered the amount she’d wanted to borrow and had instructed all her friends to pray, burn sage or sacrifice to create good karma.
She knocked once on Libby’s open office door. The older woman looked up from her computer.
Libby was in her fifties and nearly a caricature of what people assumed a woman in banking management should look like. She wore dark suits, pearls and always had her hair up in a tight bun. She looked disapproving, with a perpetual almost-frown knitting her eyebrows together. Silver tried to remember if she’d ever seen Libby smile and couldn’t. Not that she was around her that much, but on the surface, the banker was not a happy person.
“Silver,” she said, the corners of her mouth nearly but not quite lifting in a smile. “How nice of you to be on time.” She motioned to the chair opposite her desk.
Silver sat down and did her best to look confident and professional. She set her briefcase where Libby could see it and be impressed.
The other woman barely glanced at her estate sale find. “You did an excellent job revising your business plan. The numbers look good.”
Silver allowed herself an internal fist bump, but kept her expression neutral.
“Having said that, I’m sorry to tell you that we won’t be giving you the loan. You were right on the edge of being approved, but given the nature of your business—with the potential for liability and lack of steady customers—the committee simply couldn’t come to an agreement.”
A committee of one, Silver thought, determined not to let her disappointment and bitterness show. Libby had been her last hope. Okay, not Libby but the bank. Silver had already been to every other one in town. There was no point in trying out of the area. Happily Inc was a quirky destination wedding town. Things here moved to their own rhythm. Explaining to a banker outside Happily Inc that she wanted to buy trailers to fix up to be traveling bars for weddings would make her sound like an idiot—despite her excellent business plan.
“I am sorry,” Libby added, her eyes bright with something that looked a whole lot more like satisfaction than regret.
She should have known, Silver told herself. There was no escaping her past—not in this town. Not with people like Libby around.
Silver knew the polite thing to do was to thank the other woman or offer to shake her hand or something socially acceptable. But she couldn’t do it. Instead, she nodded before standing and made her way out of the suddenly too-warm office.
She felt ridiculous in her business clothes, as if she were a child at Halloween. No one was fooled. She was who she had always been—wild Silver Tesdal, the woman who owned a bar and didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought of her.
She held on to her stupid briefcase as she crossed the lobby, her heels clicking on the marble floor.
The voice came from behind her. She didn’t have to turn around to know who was calling her name. She did her best not to hunch like a cat in the rain, even as she faked a smile.
“Drew. Fancy seeing you here.”
She didn’t express surprise at seeing him—Drew also worked at the bank. He was, in fact, heir apparent to the glory that was California First Savings and Loan. A fact that was no doubt thrilling to him, annoying to her and completely irrelevant when it came to her loan.
His dark gaze swept over her, taking in the skirt, the heels and the briefcase. “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting an old friend.”
“You don’t have any friends here,” he told her.
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” More so now than ever.
Unfortunately, Drew wasn’t an idiot. He looked from her back to the executive offices.
“You had a meeting with Libby.”
“She is in charge of commercial loans.” She began walking toward the exit.
All she had to do was get in her truck, then get home. She would go for a four-mile run, take a shower, scream into a pillow, and then mask her disappointment with a bottle of red wine and a burger. Tomorrow she would be strong and determined, but tonight there would be wine.
“Your loan application for the Airstreams,” he said, as if putting the pieces together. “The loan committee isn’t supposed to meet until tomorrow.”
“They decided to meet early.”
She could see the glass door leading to the parking lot, could almost touch it. Freedom was just. So. Close.
He stepped between her and the door. “She turned you down.”
Not a question and not anything she wanted to talk about.
Sarcasm would be easy. There were a thousand choices, each of them more biting than the one before. Sarcasm could be a weapon, as were lies and the act of simply ignoring him and walking away. They were also proof that she felt the need to protect herself, as if Drew could still hurt her. Twelve years after the fact, shouldn’t she not care in the least? Wouldn’t that be the real victory?
She summoned a genuine smile. One that made her seem smart and confident and more than capable—or so she hoped. Because to her at least, the truth was just so obvious.
“Drew, there was no way Libby was going to be anything but a long shot. I did my best and I wouldn’t change anything.” Not even falling in love with you all those years ago. Even if you were an immature jerk who didn’t know what he’d lost until it was too late.
Okay, that last bit might have taken away her claim to the high ground, but at least she’d only thought it rather than saying it.
“Let me talk to her,” he began.
“No. It’s done. Let it go. I’m going to.”
Even if letting it go meant not having two beautiful Airstreams to remodel. There would be other used trailers when she could save enough cash to buy them, refurbish them and gift them with trucks to tow them. She hadn’t done the math, but she would guess her time frame would be two years. Maybe three.
The thought of waiting all that time was too depressing for words, but hey, that was why there was going to be wine later.
“It’s not right,” he told her. “I saw your business plan. You’re an excellent risk.”
“According to Libby, I was right on the margin. Hardly an excellent risk.”
His gaze flickered. Ah, she thought. Some things never changed. Drew had never been a very good liar.
“We’re done,” she said, heading for the door.
Not just with the loan process, she thought, but with whatever had ever been between them all those years ago. She’d processed the anger, hurt, sadness, resentment and nearly every emotion in between. Facing him like this in a moment of disappointment and shame, she was happy to admit she felt almost nothing. Finally. Finally Drew was just some guy she used to know. Talk about a miracle.
She reached her truck, slid onto the seat and reviewed her plan. A run, a shower, wine and a burger. Celebrating the loan would have been a whole lot better, but that hadn’t happened so she’d earned a night to mourn. First thing tomorrow, she would get her butt in gear and start a new plan. One that didn’t involve banks or loans. She would be self-sufficient, she would be victorious and, truth be told, she would probably be a little hung over. But no matter what, she would be fine.
* * *
DREW LOVATO TOOK a couple of days to consider his options. Calling a special meeting of the commercial loan committee was one, only he’d checked the records of the last meeting and Silver’s loan application had been shot down 7–2. He doubted any impassioned plea on his part would make a difference. Libby had made her case first, and apparently it had been a good one. A single swing vote he could probably manage, but finding three people willing to vote yes instead of no seemed unlikely.
He didn’t know what his aunt had against Silver, but there was something, he thought grimly. Regardless, Silver still needed the money to expand her business.
Soon, he promised himself. When his grandfather retired and Drew took over the bank, policies would change. He wanted to support local businesses and help the community grow. That meant loaning money to entrepreneurs like Silver.
His second thought had been to set up a fake loan through the bank—using his own money. However, violating federal banking statutes was never a good idea. He doubted he would enjoy prison.
He could simply give her what she needed to buy the trailers. He smiled as he imagined how that conversation would go. Would she tear him a new one before or after she backed her truck over him? Silver was many things—beautiful, smart, determined. She was also proud as hell, highly verbal and occasionally impulsive. The combination made life with her interesting, to say the least, and sometimes it came with an unexpected thrown object.
Alternatively, he could offer to loan her the money, using the same terms as the banks. Whatever risk the loan committee might have worried about wouldn’t exist for him. He knew she would sell a kidney before defaulting on him of all people. Which meant she would probably say no. Or several versions of no, some of which would question his masculinity, his humanity and his relationship with everyone’s mother.
The last option, and to be honest, the one he liked the best, was for him to buy into her business as a minority partner. He would supply cash and together they would grow the business.
There were several advantages on his end. While he’d thought he was over Silver, in the past few months, he’d found himself thinking about her more than was healthy. There was something about her—some combination of determination and sass—that he found difficult to ignore.
He knew he would enjoy spending time with her and even if close proximity didn’t lead to them rekindling their attraction, he liked the idea of adding value to her small company. He was a banker by birth and by trade—his world was a happier place when those who depended on him did well. Improving the community was part of his job description, so he would start with Silver. The question was how to convince her?
After discarding the idea of asking her friends to help with an intervention, which they would all likely refuse, and drugging her and forcing her to sign the paperwork—a little too much like a Jasper Dembenski novel for a guy who basically worked in a bank—he came up with what he thought was the perfect solution. He would use Silver’s pride against her.
Smug in his brilliance, Drew purchased the two Airstreams and arranged to have them transported to Silver. He knew she kept her current trailer in the huge, fenced lot behind the graphic design and printing store. On the morning of, the trucker dropping off the trailers texted Silver that her delivery was thirty minutes out. He also gave Drew a heads-up. Drew arrived just as the delivery did and told himself the fireworks would be worth it. That or he would be dead, and hey, then he wouldn’t care.
Silver stood in the middle of the paved lot, frowning mightily, with her hands on her hips. Drew pulled up just as she started explaining to the delivery guy that she hadn’t bought the trailers.
“I wanted to,” she said, looking adorably confused. “I’ve been by to look at them a half-dozen times, but I never...”
Her voice trailed off when she spotted Drew walking toward her. He figured confusion would quickly spiral into good, old-fashioned rage any second now. Three, two...
“Did you have something to do with this?” she demanded, glaring at him. “What is going on? Why are you here? Why do I have trailers? Dammit, Drew, what have you done?”
He motioned to the delivery driver, who was surreptitiously inching backward toward the safety of his cab.
“Sign the paperwork, Silver.”
“I will not. These are not my trailers.” She folded her arms across her chest. “And you can’t make me.”
Drew told himself he would admire the way she looked in tight jeans and tank top, with her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, later. After all this was settled, he would try to figure out if the tattoo on her left arm was new, because he sure didn’t remember it and he’d seen every inch of her.
“I can’t make you? That’s mature.” He motioned for the driver to give him the clipboard. “I’ll sign for them. Let’s get them unloaded.”
“No,” Silver said forcefully. “I will not let you put them here. This is my property.” She hesitated. “I rent this space.”
“I really have a schedule to keep,” the driver said, looking anxious.
“Leave ’em by the curb.” Drew grinned. “There’s plenty of room and that’s public property.”
“The Happily Inc police department won’t let you park them there indefinitely,” Silver told him. “It’s a violation of code.”
“Or so you hope.”
Drew wasn’t concerned. There was no way Silver would leave her precious trailers unprotected for more than a day or two. She might take a while to come around but he was confident she would see the beauty of his plan. And if she didn’t, well, he could take a nice long trip and see the country in one of his two Airstreams.
The trailers were unhitched and backed into place in a matter of minutes. Drew pocketed a copy of the paperwork and the driver took off, nearly burning rubber in his haste to get away. Silver waited until he was gone before approaching Drew. Her pale blue eyes filled with icy rage while her whole body stiffened, as if she were doing her best not to kill him.
“Whatever you’ve done, I don’t want any part of it,” she said, poking him in the chest hard enough to bruise. “You think you’re so slick and that you can manipulate me, but you’re wrong. I don’t care why you did this or what you think is going to happen, but you are the wrongest kind of wrong there is. You don’t get to dictate my life.”
He’d been hoping they’d moved past politely acknowledging each other to being something closer to friends, but based on her behavior, he’d been a little too optimistic. Or maybe her anger was about something else, he thought. Maybe it was about not being sure what he expected from her in return. Maybe she was worried he was dangling an Airstream-sized carrot and she was going to have to make a choice she wouldn’t like to get it.
He had assumed enough time had passed for her to think better of him, but now he wasn’t sure. As to the trailers, he was simply going to wait her out.
“I’m not dictating anything,” he told her, careful to keep his voice neutral. “I have an idea I hope you’ll find interesting. When you’re ready to talk.”
The glare turned into a glower. “I’ll never be ready to talk to you.”
With that, she turned her back on him and walked away. Drew took a few minutes to inspect the interiors before locking up both trailers. He’d taken the day off work, so didn’t have to worry about getting back to the bank. He would run some errands, grab a couple of sandwiches for lunch, then return to the trailers and wait. He had a feeling it wouldn’t take long to lure out Silver.
As he walked to his car, he wondered if he’d made a massive miscalculation. Maybe she wouldn’t come around. Maybe she really did hate him. Regardless, he had to try. Doing the right thing was part of his DNA and how he tried to live his life. Whenever he’d stepped away from that path, he’d been overwhelmed with regrets. Maybe not at the time, but later and permanently. Not marrying Silver Tesdal when she’d been pregnant with their child was the biggest regret of all.