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But First, Coffee by Sarah Darlington (1)


 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

 

 

LANA

 

I pressed the intercom button that connected me with Nancy, my administrative assistant.

“Nancy, is Joe Coffee here yet?”

Every time I said his name I nearly burst out laughing. Joe Coffee. His name sounded like a cartoon character from the 1990s. These days, Joe was all anyone could talk about. The most charismatic, charming, highest selling barista in the entire company. He’d single-handedly turned the store he worked at from one of our lowest selling stores to our top earner. No tricks. No gimmicks. He simply made our good coffee better and faster somehow, and livened up the store’s atmosphere, while putting a personal touch on his customer service. People went into his store just to watch him work. People loved him; literally, any one of my subordinates who met him—man or woman—came back to me praising this person. He was the Mother freaking Teresa of baristas. What else could I do? I had to research him. I had to promote him.

“Yes,” came Nancy’s timid response, “he’s here.” I wasn’t intimidating, at least, I didn’t think I was, but Nancy skirted around me like she was the administrative assistant to the Devil or something.

Seriously, I wasn’t that bad, was I?

“Send him in,” I said rolling my eyes.

“One moment, please.”

“Excuse me?”

“One moment.”

Yeah—people didn’t normally tell me ‘one moment.’ I stood from my chair, my heels clicking against the floor as I walked around my desk and toward the door.

I yanked it open.

Several of my employees, including Frank Westin, my COO, were out of their offices or cubicles, congregating around someone—someone I had to assume was the infamous Joe Coffee.

“So . . .” I heard him tell the group. I couldn’t see past Frank’s six-foot-five stature to see this man’s face, but he had a smooth, warm voice—kind of like, well, coffee. “This stylishly, insanely beautiful, thirty-something woman with coffee stains all over her tailored white pantsuit stormed into the middle of the crowded store, threw up her hands, and screeched at me . . . and the rest of the terrified baristas working that day, ‘How . . . about . . . next time . . . you make sure . . . the lid is on?!’ It was my first day, mind you, but I learned my lesson that day—always make sure the lid is securely on.”

Laughter followed his story.

I wasn’t laughing.

I had my hands on my hips as the internal temperature inside me started to rise a couple of degrees. I cleared my throat. “Okay, everyone, the pow-wow is over. We all have jobs to do. Please, get back to them now.”

The easy mood in the room instantly went tense. I didn’t mean to come across as the ‘Boss-With-a-Stick-Up-Her-Ass,’ but that was exactly how I think they all thought of me. Whatever, as CEO, I had to run a tight ship. And, apparently, it was working for me. In the last ten years, my little business, Java Beans, had grown so much that we were now a household name in Portland, opened our tenth location just last month, which gave our biggest local rival, Weird and Wired, a serious run for their money. There was no room for error.

Everyone scattered like cockroaches with the lights flipped on back to their desks, back to at least pretending for my sake to look busy.

Joe Coffee hadn’t moved. As the sea of people parted, I got my first look at him.

Damn.

The most electric blue eyes I’d ever seen in my life on one of the most handsome faces connected with mine. He’s young. He’s confident. He’s cocky. The easiness on his face makes me want to scream.

“In my office. Now,” I said sharply.

His little story, the one that made everyone’s tummy just roll with giggles, well . . . I was the woman in the tailored white pantsuit with coffee stains all over her.

I remembered that day.

I remembered yelling.

I hadn’t remembered Joe, per-se.

You’d think I’d remember those eyes.

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