His name was Trace Johnsonne.
His occupation? Pain in Charlie’s ass because just like a hemorrhoid he kept coming back at the worst possible moments.
If there was any way she could kick him out of her restaurant without making a scene, she’d do it, but looking at his smug face she didn’t want to give him the pleasure of knowing just how much he got on her nerves.
“Hello, Ms. Daniels,” Trace said a broad smile on his face. His lean dark looks made him look like a starving artist from some kind of Parisian art film, but Charlie knew for a fact he wasn’t that sophisticated. Hell, he probably couldn’t even spell Parisian- country ass!
“Morning Mr. Johnsonne,” she said with her broadest smile as she boxed a dozen Gators for another customer and handed them down the line to be rung up. “What can we do for you,” she said making sure to keep the smile on her face even though her blood had begun to boil. She couldn’t help notice Trace eyeing one of the cameras which had suddenly moved closer. She was surprised to see him actually fidget at the close attention. His discomfort comforted her.
“So, I heard a rumor,” he said. “I heard you were being courted by some pretty important people.”
“People, no,” Charlie smiled showing all her teeth. “A person, yes.”
“Ohhh, yeah?” he said laughing, but she could tell he was doing everything he could to keep it light like he wasn’t digging for answers. He couldn’t fool her. He was so jealous his brown eyes were turning green.
“Exactly,” Charlie said. It wasn’t that she was keeping it a secret exactly, only with him. The first rule of competition was you never showed all your cards.
To tell the truth, if they weren’t competitors, she probably would have liked Trace. Probably was an understatement. She knew better. If he wasn’t competition, she would be all over him which split her pea even more.
Of course, she hadn’t eaten at his place personally, but she’d read enough reviews to know he had something going on over there. All the interviews were five-star glowing reviews, but it was the ones that obnoxiously compared his fare to the Honeybee’s that irked her most. The Honeybee had always won out gaining the more favorable comparison, but Charlie still didn’t like it. He was too close. She didn’t like it one bit.
The press Trace’s store was catching seemed to be happening more and more lately which meant people were talking about his so-called artisanal pastries whatever the hell that meant. The fact that he’d opened his small pastry shop a few blocks down the road from hers also didn’t sit well with her. However, it was the pretentiousness pissed her off. She just didn’t trust him.
Trace’s Treats was her biggest competition because like her, he hand made everything he sold. Although she believed in her product, deep down Charlie knew the biggest advantage she had over Trace’s Treats was that they were limited in staff and in machinery.
His tiny little shop operated from one room basically with barely enough space in front to support a cash register. It was literally standing room only and his doors were only open for about four hours a day. However, in those four hours she’d been told he always sold out.
Although she’d never admit it, Charlie feared the day he was able to open a proper shop and give her business a run for its money a fact she’d die before telling a single soul.
She still remembered the first time they’d met, and unfortunately the third as well.
That first time they’d met she’d been intrigued. The third time she’d learned the entire time she’d been mooning over him, he intended to open a bakery on her block which instantly cooled whatever attraction she had for him.
Unfortunately, it was the second time that stood out the most. That second time still made her cheeks hot, but it hadn’t happened again because the nature of competition made them permanent adversaries in her mind, a fact that he’d knowingly withheld from her. There was a lot Charlie could forgive, but betrayal wasn’t one of them.
“Well good for you,” Trace said nodding, “and your team. Looks like you have everything clicking. How’s the new place?” Trace asked innocently, but there was a glint in his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what I said when I first saw it six months ago,” Trace said.
“Here we go,” Charlie moved to the side. “Look, I didn’t steal anything from you. The buyer accepted my offer and that was that.”
“Accepted or buckled,” Trace said.
“What are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything, darling. We both know you did everything you could to screw me.”
“If I wanted to screw you believe me, I wouldn’t need to call in any favors,” Charlie said her eyes innocent. Then just as suddenly a wide grin drew Trace’s face into a roguish mask.
“No, you’d just have to give me a whip and a chair,” he said. Charlie was the one to frown then.
“I will find a bigger place and when I do, watch out,” Trace said.
“Is that a threat,” Charlie’s shot sparks as she glared back at Trace ignoring the cameras along with the microphone pack she had wired beneath her clothes.
“No threat,” Trace said already backing away his hands in the air. “It’s guaranteed. We both know who the real chef is here, and it ain’t’ you sweetheart,” he said before turning to walk out the front door.
Charlie had a rock-solid foothold in the community, but secretly she always wondered if the novelty would wear off eventually. When Trace’s business opened up, she couldn’t help wondering if all her worst fears might come true. She couldn’t help wondering if it was the beginning of the end. So, she did what anyone would do when their back was against the wall. She went for blood.
Trace was right she had cut in on his deal. Although it didn’t start out as intentional, but when the opportunity showed itself to stop his business from growing, she’d taken it.
That new spot she was preparing to open in Gulfport was a deal she’d had to really rally for, and it hadn’t been easy. Thankfully an old college friend worked at the permit office and was able to push her paperwork through quicker than Trace’s at least that was how Donna made sure to explain it.
There was nothing on paper that implicated her, but Charlie made sure once a month a Honeybee care package made it to Donna’s office. There was nothing dirty about the box of goodies that just showed up on Donna’s desk. It had nothing to do with Charlie’s luck in securing the new Honeybee site. Nope, nothing at all. It was just a friend taking care of another friend.
“Boss,” Romeo said softly in her ear. “You okay?” Shaking her thoughts of causing bodily damage to Trace away, Charlie turned to see the look of concern on Romeo’s face.
“Fine, I’m fine,” she said, smiling. “Just dealing with that as-,” Charlie stopped at Rome’s slight shake of his head. With his eyes he motioned to the cameras. Shit, she’d forgotten they were there. Sighing, Charlie turned her back to them.
“I’m fine,” she said then moved back to the serving line thankful she hadn’t said much more. “Thanks,” she murmured as she reached for another box to fill an order.
“Hey, bring out some more Honeybees,” she called over her shoulder enjoying the murmur that went through the still expanding crowd on the other side of the display case. It never got old, she thought as she pushed Trace Johnsonne out of her mind.
She had a long day to get through and that mosquito of a man had nothing to do with it. He’d come and said what he wanted to say, but unless he signed a release there was no way it was going to air. She hoped to God he hadn’t signed. The last thing she wanted was her big break to be his big break too. She knew she was being petty, but war was war even with a sexy devil that had a smile that made her want forget her goals.
Trace Johnsonne had popped out of thin air about two years ago, from what she’d been able to suss from her sources. She’d heard he was actually from Houston transplanted to the Coast to work as head chef for one of the casinos. However, soon after his arrival he decided to open a place of his own.
Although he may have skills, he didn’t have the retail space so he wasn’t an imminent threat today. Charlie refused to spend a second longer thinking about the arrogant man. She had a successful business to run and a television show to film. All of her dreams were on the verge of being realized she just had to stay focused.
Tightening the strings of her apron, Charlie took a deep breath as she took the tray of Honeybees from Romeo. She’d barely put the tray of glistening deep fried pastries down before they started disappearing as her workers hurried to fill more orders.
Smiling she pushed her anger at Trace to the side and dove into the fray to help out. Trace’s Treats was toast, she thought, as she filled another order. Charlie’s plan for world domination was in full effect, and nothing was going to stop this train.