Charlie had always thought of herself as a good girl but that was before she went to college. For Charlie, good girl had nothing to do with sex or body count. Being a good Southern girl meant doing as you were told by well, everyone.
When she was a little girl, she never even questioned it. She did what her parents wanted because she trusted them and believed they knew better than she did. Of course, as she got older, she realized life wasn’t so simple.
In college Charlie learned real quick that the real world didn’t play by Mommy and Daddy’s rules. When the going got tough, the world didn’t say ‘it’s okay, you can try again another day.” No when the going got tough the real world expected you to pull up your big girl panties and handle your business. She’d made some mistakes, gotten into some messes that forced her to grow up in some good ways and in some not so very good ways too, but Charlie didn’t mind. It was all those experiences that helped her grow into the woman she was today, and unlike most folks, when she looked in the mirror she actually liked the person staring back at her.
In the real world, she’d learned you had to get yours by any means necessary. So, she learned quickly to adapt and to use what she had to get what she wanted. Unfortunately, that left very little room for romance- that is until she met Darryl.
It was a big learning curve she’d had with him. In the beginning the biggest roadblock as a recovering good girl was resisting the urge to get swallowed by Darryl’s larger than life personality. He was different from the boys she was used to, older, smoother around the edges. She knew from the beginning he wasn’t going to be easy.
Darryl was movie star handsome the type of guy who was used to having his pick of women, and being the center of attention. The problem was he could never be happy for her success unless it led to an even bigger success for him. After a while the microaggressions became too much for Charlie because she refused to fail just to make him comfortable. The good girl had finally had enough.
Charlie knew she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a competition with her partner especially when she felt like she had to apologize for every win.
Good girl Charlie, the one that did as she was told, would have just kept her mouth shut and did as she was expected, but no, Charlie wasn’t a good girl anymore. Life had forced her to become something else. She was no longer someone to be played with.
Had she made some enemies along the way- yes, but did she care that she was no longer a good girl? Hell no, because she was a grown woman and more importantly, she was the sole owner of the hottest restaurant on the Gulf Coast with the sweetest reputation.
Southern Fried Honeybee was the most successful relationship she’d ever had. Charlie was determined to maintain that success. As long as the Southern Fried Honeybee was on top, she didn’t care about anything, especially handsome devils who stood in the way of her goals.
Twelve months ago….
Sitting at the hotel’s bar Charlie checked her watch once more. It was getting close but still she was determined to enjoy the rest of her drink before the next seminar. It was some fruity thing that the bartender totally judged her for until she told him he needed to mind his own damn business.
So, she was a lightweight, so what? Charlie wasn’t in the mood. She was hot and tired and the last thing she felt like doing in that moment was being judged. Yesterday, she’d been all about the conference, but that was before she’d spent the entire night tossing and turning in her hotel room.
Besides it was New Orleans. It was impolite to judge someone’s drinking choices. Unfortunately, she’d already downed one drink and was already feeling it. Not too buzzed, but buzzed enough to get in a little trouble and not be too mad about it. She probably should have ordered food, but shoulda, woulda, coulda, right? That’s what she told herself as she tossed another back.
So she’d missed breakfast? It was New Orleans, what of it? If she wanted a drink and it wasn’t even afternoon yet? It was New Orleans, why the hell not? She was a grown ass woman, and if a little nip would set her right before she headed back into the conference, she deserved a little nip.
The fact that she was trying to rationalize a daiquiri with an extra shot of vodka at 10 am in the morning should have warned Charlie she needed to put something in her stomach, but by then she’d decided nothing on the menu was going to satisfy her taste buds.
She needed something a little spicier, and fortunately the man at the other end of the bar looked like a freaking buffet.
Around six foot two about two hundred pounds of sinew and muscle (not that she’d been looking- at all). Totally, her type, but Charlie didn’t call him over.
He’d noticed her when he first walked in, she was sure of it, but he’d kept his distance sitting on the opposite end despite all the empty chairs. Charlie liked that. He wasn’t pressed.
She couldn’t see any rings on his finger, not that it mattered from her experience, but still it gave a girl hope he was fully single.
Charlie watched the way his muscles moved beneath the perfectly tailored navy-blue suit he was wearing as she waited for him to make his move. She waited and waited. And waited.
To say she was surprised when she looked up a few minutes later to see he’d disappeared was an understatement. She was thrown off for a second. She was sure that he was going to stop for a chit or a chat. She felt foolish, but she forced herself to shake it off. “His loss,” she said putting down her empty glass.
Besides he was probably married, or at least taken or maybe he was gay. It had to have been a pretty extraordinary reason he hadn’t picked up on her signals because she knew she looked good. Hell, she looked good every day, she thought, giggling to herself.
The bartender looked at her and Charlie realized she’d been speaking out loud. The bartender tilted his head slightly to the side, letting her know he agreed with her.
Charlie knew then it was time to order some food before she made an even bigger fool of herself. When her sandwich came, she took several bites then stuffed the rest in her purse along with a bottle of water.
She paid her tab then gathered her briefcase to head to the next meeting on the itinerary Cyndi had made for her.
Thankfully the speaker was on time. Charlie had her pen out and was scribbling in her notepad some of the talking points from the PowerPoint the speaker had put up when a shadow fell across the table.
“You mind if I sit here,” a deep rich voice smooth in her ear, but Charlie was too busy taking notes to look up.
“Sure, sugar,” she said not taking her eyes from the screen. The speaker was at the podium talking about measuring business growth potential.
If there was any time to pay attention it was now, but a whiff of the man’s expensive cologne grabbed hold of her attention. When she turned, she was surprised to see that handsome profile from the bar.
“Can I help you?” he asked. Caught, Charlie cleared her throat, finding it suddenly difficult to swallow.
Say something, stupid, she thought to herself. But what do you say when you are busted straight staring at someone like a dog staring at a bone? The words got stuck somewhere in her throat.
“Well?” he said, turning to Charlie with the most wicked smile on his face as if he was amused by her speechlessness. It was something in his eyes that made the lioness in Charlie want to rise up.
He was cocky for sure, and oh, he thought he had her figured out, but he was wrong, so wrong. She went with it though.
“Just wondering how you could just take someone’s seat like that.” Surprised, the man frowned. He hadn’t expected that, she could tell. The challenge had thrown him off, which made the lioness in her stretch as she waited for her chance to pounce.
“I’m sorry,” he said his brow furrowed. “I thought you heard me ask.” It was Charlie’s turn to smile then.
“Okay,” he said. “You got me. My name is Trace, but my friends call me Tre,” he said as way of introduction before holding his hand out. Charlie took it returning his firm grip. One of his eyebrows arched.
“Hi, Trace,” she said purposefully before introducing herself. “Charlie.” There was something about him that made her want to play with him, like a kitten with a ball of string even though everything in her told her now wasn’t the time. The team was depending on her to bring back good information. They were in the middle of planning an expansion and they needed all the connections they could get.
“So for real, it’s okay if I join you?” he said leaning in close enough for Charlie to feel his body heat his eyes never leaving hers. A deep part of her wanted to purr- get closer. “You’re not saving this seat for anyone, are you?”
“Of course not,” Charlie said turning back to the speaker. “It’s all yours.” She was able to follow along for the remainder of the speaker’s presentation, but not because she wanted to. Luckily, they were selling tapes at the end of the session. She planned to purchase a set for later reference anyways. She knew the girls would want to hear as much first hand as they could. She wished they all could have come, but it just wasn’t feasible. Someone had to stay behind to run the business without her being there.
The speaker this year was actually fascinating giving great advice, and within a few minutes she was back taking notes.
Food was big business in the South, and this particular conference was a popular annual event for restauranteurs and really worth the money she’d spent on it. The opportunity for networking alone was worth its weight in gold. Tomorrow she’d head back to Biloxi after a final brunch.
The folks who’d planned the conference this year really had their stuff down and made sure all the attendees got their money’s worth. Now that she’d met Trace it was just an added bonus. Maybe this year she might have an opportunity for a little pleasure with business. God knew she needed it.
All work and no play made Charlie a very dull girl, and unfortunately it had been a very boring summer. However, at the end of the lecture Trace stood quickly as if he was leaving. Charlie had hoped they’d have a little time to talk between lectures, but once again she’d read him wrong.
There were several times she felt his eyes on her during the conference. There was definitely some touching beneath the table when his knee or hand briefly brushed accidently against her. It wasn’t too much to where she felt uncomfortable, but just the right amount that piqued her interest.
“Thanks for sharing your table with me,” Trace said. Charlie looked up at him as she picked up her briefcase from under her chair.
“My pleasure,” she said smiling.
“Your pleasure, huh?” He was definitely interested, but he also seemed distracted. Charlie knew she looked good in her custom-made designer suit, but she knew she looked even better standing- so she did. As expected, his eyes traveled down her body all the way to the strappy pumps she wore.
“No, the pleasure was all mine,” he said bright white teeth shining against his dark brown skin as he chuckled. He stared a few seconds too long to be an accident, but Charlie held back. Something told her that was how he liked it. Everything in her screamed to make a move, but she knew he wouldn’t appreciate it. He was the type that had to do the chasing.
He actually seemed like a good guy, but there was a wicked side lurking beneath waiting to be unleashed. It was that dark side that Charlie recognized. She wanted that dark side, but she knew in order to get it, she couldn’t be herself. Instinctively she knew she had to be someone else. That’s wasn’t her style normally, Charlie liked to be upfront. She didn’t mind doing the chasing, not at all. Charlie didn’t believe in playing games like some romance novel damsel in distress. If she wanted something she went after it full speed in business and in pleasure. However, something told her Trace wouldn’t be turned on by that.
To get him she had to be the type of woman who opened the gate to that dark side but waited for him to enter on his own steam.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll be running into each other again,” Trace said.
“Really?” Charlie said her tone full of doubt.
“Most definitely. Very nice meeting you, Charlie,” he said as if he savored the sound of her name in his mouth. Her mind flooded with the desire to have that mouth on her, but she forced herself to hold back- for now.
Charlie had already made her decision about Trace. Hell, she’d made her decision the moment she’d laid eyes on him before he’d even spoken a word.
Everything was going just how she wanted, but then his eyes left hers. It wasn’t long but long enough for her to know he wasn’t going to make a move- not now.
Smiling, he excused himself, and just like that he was gone.
Once the door closed behind him it was only then that she noticed the other people swarming around the room. The place was packed with other attendees networking and preparing for their next session, but she hadn’t even seen them.
While she was talking to Trace it was like they’d been the only two people in the world, but now that he was gone the spell had been lifted. It was amazing, and lowkey Charlie felt a way about that. She prided herself on her gift of observation and being present. He’d actually made her forget about everything for a few moments- even the Honeybee.
Disappointed and a little confused, Charlie picked up her bag gathering her notes to put away. It was then she saw a small white card flutter to the ground. She picked it up.
On the front it had Trace’s name, along with a phone number. On the back there was more.
The words there made her tingle inside.
“You are the most beautiful woman I’ve met in a long time. I would love to see you again. Call me ~Tre”
His personal number was listed along with a home phone number.
“Mm-hm,” Charlie smiled.