Drake sat at a table, watching the door. He hoped he hadn’t made a mistake asking an unknown designer to decorate his place. But he’d taken chances before.
Most of them bombed, but there was always a possibility this time would be different.
When a blonde walked in twirling a long strand of hair around her finger, Drake hoped she was the designer. He made a quick scan of her other fingers checking for a ring. There was no law against asking her out, right? His logical side put the brakes on the idea. Mixing business and dating was a horrible way to start the project.
The satchel hanging off her shoulder added to his hope she was the one. He jumped up and grinned. “Kaci?”
A wide smile and something akin to relief etched on her face. “Yes. I’m so sorry. I didn’t catch your name on the phone.”
He hadn’t given it. She couldn’t Google what she didn’t know. He liked to think he’d gotten smarter since his ex walked out, and now he didn’t flaunt his money. As much. His car wasn’t exactly understated, and he wondered if he should’ve driven the truck.
In the past, dollar signs had attracted the wrong kind of attention.
Shaking her hand, he stared into her brown eyes a little too long before responding. “Drake. Drake Davenport. Let me buy you a cup of coffee—or tea if that’s your thing—and we can chat about the project.”
Her smile lit up the room. “Thank you, but you don’t have to get it.”
“You have to listen to me go on and on about my house, the least I can do is buy you a drink.”
“A chai latte would be great.”
“After you.” He stuck his hand out, waiting for her to go ahead of him. “Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.”
“I’m excited to hear more about your house. And to see it. The timing was perfect. I have an open schedule right now.” She gave her order to the guy at the register. “But first, we should talk about the project to make sure we’d be a good fit working together.”
Thankful for the interruption of the guy asking for an order, Drake didn’t tell Kaci that he’d already decided she was a good fit. Instead, he scanned the glass cabinet and spotted the macarons. “I’ll have a latte and a dozen of those.” He leaned closer to Kaci. “Have you ever had the macarons? They’re really good.”
“I haven’t. They look good.” She shifted her bag on her shoulder.
He swiped his card then followed her to a table. “Help yourself. The Earl Grey ones are my favorite. You should try one.” He pulled the lid off the box and nudged it toward her.
“That sounds interesting.” She picked out a grey one and took a small bite. Tiny crumbles fell onto her shirt. “Oh, wow. This is fantastic.”
“Wait until you see my house.” Drake hoped she’d laugh.
Her small giggle guaranteed her employment. He’d happily listen to it every single day. If she didn’t hate him at the end of the decorating process—however that was supposed to work—then he’d ask her out.
She reached into her bag and pulled out a pen and notebook. “So, tell me about what you are wanting. Which rooms are you wanting decorated?” She took another bite of her cookie.
“All of them.” He popped a pistachio-flavored macaron in his mouth.
Crumbs landed on the table as she coughed and struggled to catch her breath.
Drake needed to do something. “Should I do the Heimlich?”
She shook her head and curled her fingers in a half circle and brought her hand close to her mouth.
“You need water?” He launched out of his chair and made it to the counter in three strides. “Can I—”
The clerk handed over a filled cup.
“Thanks.” Drake set it in front of her. “You gonna be okay?” It was a stupid question to ask someone who was choking, but he didn’t know what to do. Feeling helpless was not something he was used to.
She sipped the water, and her ears turned a deep pink color. “Forgive me. It went down the wrong pipe.”
“You had me worried.” He patted her shoulder.
Her gaze snapped to his hand, and her body tensed. That was pretty much the universal symbol for don’t touch me.
He dutifully yanked his hand away. “Do you want to wait and talk about the project another day?”
“No. I’m fine now.” She dusted crumbs off the front of her shirt. “That was embarrassing.”
“If you wanted my undivided attention, you’ve got it.” Telling very stupid jokes would tell him more about how their working relationship might go. More precisely, her reaction would give the clues.
She rolled her eyes. One more point for Kaci.
The barista announced that the drinks were ready at the bar, and Drake jumped up to grab them.
When he made it back to the table, he eased into his chair and handed over her chai latte. “If decorating all the rooms seems too overwhelming, I can hire you to do the living room and kitchen.”
“It’s really about what you want.” Another smile, a little tighter than the last one, graced her face.
Drake sipped his coffee. “What do you need to know from me?”
“How many rooms?” She opened the small notebook.
He walked through the house in his mind. “I think about fifteen. Living room, dining room, den, game room, media room, laundry room—that might not need too much decorating—five bedrooms, and the pool house which has two or three rooms in it. I’m missing a room or two, but you get the idea.”
Scribbling, she didn’t look up. “What timeframe?”
“As long as it takes.”
“And budget wise?” Her gaze left the page, and she focused on him. “That’s a large project.”
“I’d like to keep the whole project under two million if possible. If that’s not possible, I can budget more.”
Her pen hit the table. “Did you say…?”
“Is that unreasonable? I’ve never hired a decorator before.”
“I would lov—really like to help you decorate your ranch house, but I feel like I should tell you that I’ve never worked on a project this big. Not even half this big.” She wrapped her hands around the mug. “If you want to find a more experienced decorator, I completely understand.”
The old Drake would have hired the designer based on what she looked like. He wasn’t going to do that. But he also wasn’t excited about the possibility of watching her leave and never seeing her again.
Pointing at her bag, he shook his head. “Project size isn’t important, but I would like to see some of what you’ve done if you have anything to show.”
“Yes, of course.” She pulled an album out of her bag. “And your budget is more than sufficient.” Turning pages, she pointed at photos and explained about her recent projects. “I try to gear the design to the personality and tastes of my client.”
He liked what she’d done. “How do you figure out the tastes and personalities?”
“Asking questions. Seeing their space.”
“But they are changing things if they’ve called you, right?”
“I find out what they love and what they hate.”
“So showing you my condo might help.”
“Definitely. What colors do you love?”
“Blues, greens, browns. I like the browns that have kinda a grey look to them.”
She glanced up and smiled. “Great. What colors do you hate?”
“Burnt orange. Yellow.”
“I’m happy to handle all decisions, but I also welcome and enjoy client involvement.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I want to be part of the process.”
“Tell me more about your style. What is the inspiration or the feel you want in the house?”
“The Hill Country.”
“It’s such a beautiful area. Oh, I forgot to ask. Children? Pets?”
“No kids. There is a barn cat on the ranch. She stays outside. But I’m thinking about getting an inside cat or two. Not sure about that.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“What do you want to see first? The ranch house, which is empty. They are finishing the trim work this week. Or do you want to see my condo?”
“The ranch house. I’ll follow you out there.”
“Perfect. Finish your tea. I’m not in a hurry. Tell me about you. What do you like to do besides decorating?” He nudged the box of cookies closer to her when she glanced at it.
She picked up another Earl Grey macaron. “I love to cook. And don’t laugh but I like hunting through secondhand stores for treasures.”
“Hunting treasure? Sounds fun.” He’d never set foot in a secondhand store. Maybe that would have to change. “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?”
“Years ago, I was in a shop in this tiny town. They had a few pieces of hand-painted Paris porcelain: a dinner plate, a platter, and a teacup. I love it. It’s from the early eighteen hundreds. Wherever I go, I’m always on the lookout for more pieces.”
“Ever find any?”
“I found a teapot once. And another time I found a saucer for the teacup.” She wiped the crumbs into a single pile. “We can go whenever you’re ready.”
“Great. I’m excited about getting started.” He pushed open the door and let her exit first.
“I’ll follow you. Which car is yours?”
He pointed at the Lamborghini. “The red one.”
“You won’t blend in with traffic. That’s a good thing.” She unlocked her car and tossed the bag in the passenger seat. “See you there.”
He slid behind the wheel, wondering if she’d enjoyed the meeting as much as he had.
As soon as they were on the highway, Drake called his friend Mac on Bluetooth.
His wife Paige answered. “Hey, Drake. Mac is putting on a brisket. You coming over?”
“Maybe later. I met with a designer. She’s following me out to the ranch. And”—he glanced in the rearview mirror at the blue Honda behind him—“I need some advice.”
“I’ll grab Mac.”
“I want your advice. You know, from a girl.”
“Oooh. Now I’m intrigued.” Paige laughed.
He fully expected to be teased, but helpful advice was needed, and he didn’t have much time. “She’s cute, and I would like to get to know her better. I already told her I wanted to give input on the design.”
“You’re going to shop with her, compare fabric samples, and look at paint swatches until your vision blurs?” She didn’t bother to mask her incredulity.
“If it means spending time with her, yes. I will. She mentioned secondhand stores—”
“That would be so fun, and you’d have to search lots of places to find what you want. It might even warrant travel.” She giggled. “You could charter a plane.”
He liked that idea. “How do I say I want to shop at secondhand stores without sounding like a creep since she talked about it first?”
“Tell her you want it to be unique and that you want to capture the vibe of the Hill Country.”
“I like that. And I did tell her I wanted it to have a Hill Country feel.” Drake planned to search for all the best secondhand stores on this side of Texas.
Paige cleared her throat. “You really have turned over a new leaf.”
“I’ve learned a thing or two from watching Mac.” He exited the highway and checked to make sure Kaci followed. “Being cautious may only get me a designed place, and I’m okay with that.”
“You being cautious? Scary thought.” Paige laughed again. “Want to talk to Mac?”
“I’ll call him later. We’re not far from the ranch. Thanks for the chat.” He ended the call.
Incredibly proud of his new home, he hoped Kaci would be impressed.
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