Working lunches were beginning to be the story of Kate’s life. Building an empire was turning out to be more work than she bargained for. Grey’s Fashion Boutique was her baby and for the past two years, Kate had thought of nothing else. Since childhood, she lived and breathed fashion and beauty. She combed through fashion magazines, went through a period of time when her hair was purple, and spent hours styling her friends for prom and school dances. Her parents tolerated what they considered to be her hobby. When it was time to apply for college, she decided to forego an entrance into Milner Fashion Institute to instead earn a business degree from the university.
That education was not for nothing. After finishing, she followed her dream and attended Milner and paired the knowledge of the two by starting her boutique. All of her inventory was initially online, but that grew steadily into the need to have a brick and mortar location.
Grey’s was in a quaint section of the city, and she was quickly becoming the toast of Los Angeles. A mention by a local fashion blogger had given her more business than she knew how to handle and now she set her sights on getting back to what she always loved- styling.
“Are we eating in again?”
Kate looked up from her soup and sandwich to see Linda.
“I am. How about you?”
Linda shook her head. “All work and no play makes Kate a very dull girl.”
Kate smiled at the joke. “I get it. But I have so much to do here. I have numbers to run and a couple client files to get in order before this weekend. Going out to lunch just seems a bit-,” Kate paused.
Linda put her hand on her hip. “A bit like fun? Maybe relaxing even?”
Kate rolled her eyes in jest. “Maybe even relaxing. You could be right. Let’s set a lunch date for this week. I promise.”
Linda smiled. “At least that’s something. Look, I’m going to go out, grab a bite to eat, and then I will be back to finish working those files,” she said pointing to the files spread out in front of Kate.
The bell on the front door chimed as Linda left. Kate was appreciative of the woman and all that she did for Grey’s. Since the day Kate opened the doors to the boutique, Linda had been her right hand. She was there through everything and Kate was grateful to have someone working with her that not only understood her vision, but helped her execute that vision in a way that fit her brand.
Linda was right. She had not made much time for socializing or dating for that matter. Any events she attended were purely for networking. Kate could not remember the last date she went on or when she last went out just for fun. She enjoyed what she did for a living and that seemed like enough to fulfill her at the moment.
Being caught up in falling in love had never served her well. There had been one serious relationship, and that ended because he did not understand her drive and ambition. Even her mother told her that she would never find the right man if she spent all of her time working. It was such an isolating feeling not having people understand her urge to further her career before finding love.
She simply had her life on a plan, and being in love had nothing to do with that plan right now. She was okay with the way things were and Kate felt that everyone else should just back off. Love was something she wanted, something she desired. As a girl, she often dreamed of falling in love with her own knight in shining armor. It was just that in her dating life, she had not met a man that would come close to that persona and she was beginning to think that finding true love was like finding a unicorn.
As she ate the last of her soup, she enjoyed the jazz playing in the background. Her life was exactly the way she wanted it right now. No stress, no drama, no issues.
Clicking the tab closed on the computer, she closed the laptop. There were two clients she had to pull outfits for and a few other potential clients she had to follow up with for services.
Before she knew it, over an hour had gone by and the outfits had been pulled and tagged to be readied for the clients.
“Thank goodness you are back. Can you call the-,” Kate started as she heard the door chime. She stopped short as she entered the front retail space.
“Oh. I’m sorry. How can I help you?”
The man standing before her looked like a deer in headlights. He was standing there, looking around, nervously twirling his thumbs, rising up and down on his toes. He was a big man, and he looked out of place standing in the middle of the boutique. A large ten gallon hat, tight jeans that appeared dusty, a white collared button down shirt, and a pair of worn cowboy boots were his attire.
“Uh, well.” He was stuttering and seemed barely able to put a thought together.
“Let me guess. You need a little something for your wife or girlfriend.” Kate tried to make the shopping experience easier for the gentleman.
When he still did not answer, she replied. “Maybe for both?”
Her comment obviously broke the ice because he let out a hearty laugh.
“Actually neither. I need some style for myself.” He used his hands to display his own outfit.
“I heard that you were the best in town.”
Kate extended her hand to him. “I’m Kate. Nice to meet you, Mr.?”
“Please, just call me Bruce. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kate.”
She could not help but get lost for a moment in his steel blue eyes. He looked to be in his mid forties, strong build, a brawny guy. His graying hair peeked from under the large brimmed hat pulled back in a ponytail. His skin looked tough and tanned, and she could tell that he worked with his hands by the calluses on his palms.
Kate tucked her black tresses behind her left ear. She gave him a friendly smile, hoping he would feel calm.
“Why don’t you come over here Bruce? We will create a profile for you and get you started.”
Kate led the way to her desk area. She flipped open her laptop and beckoned for Bruce to have a seat. He pulled out the chair, the look on his face still displaying anxiety.
“You can be sure that you are in good hands with me, Bruce. I have a lot of men that come to me for fashion consulting. Everyone wants to look good, male or female, right?”
She raised an eyebrow, hoping to see a sense of peace come over Bruce. He relaxed a bit in his chair.
“So where do we start?”
Kate began asking him the questions on the questionnaire. They went over everything from favorite color to what his daily outfit looked like.
After the tenth question, it looked like Bruce was checking out.
“Just a few more questions, Bruce,” Kate responded, engrossed in recording the answers to the questions.
Bruce leaned back and crossed his leg. “Look, I’m a simple man. I like my dungarees, my boots, and my hat. I have probably twenty pairs of the same pants and just as many white shirts. When I work the ranch, I wear a black t-shirt and dungarees. This hat is one of my favorites, and I like my belt buckles shiny. But of course I can’t show up for this meeting with my client like this. I just need one of those monkey suits and I’ll be on my way.”
Kate set the computer to the side and gave Bruce her full attention. She could see that he was going to be a harder client to break.
“Bruce, I live and breathe fashion. I have been styling people as long as I can remember. This is what I do. You have to trust the process. I can definitely make you look great, make sure you feel comfortable, and I promise you that you will look way better than a monkey in a suit.”
A grin spread across Bruce’s lips.
“Ah ha! I knew I could get you to relax a bit. Now, we’ll go over to the fitting area. I need to get your measurements. Right this way.”
Bruce stood there stoically, and Kate caught him admiring himself in the mirror. She laughed at his actions as she pulled out the tape measure.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” she shook her head. “Can you take your hat off please?”
He nodded and removed the hat, revealing salt and peppered graying hair. Bruce was naturally handsome and on top of his outwardly hard demeanor, there seemed a bit of a gentle nature in his eyes.
Kate began taking his measurements and tried to create a little small talk. “So, you said that you work on a ranch. Where do you live?”
“A woman that listens to the little things. I like it,” he commented. “I help my parents with their ranch about thirty miles outside of the city.”
“Your parents? That’s nice. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that owned a ranch.”
“It’s a small thing. Not really anything serious. My parents own the land and a few cattle and chickens. Nothing expansive or anything like that. Have you ever been outside of the city?”
Kate shook her head. “Not really. Maybe once or twice on a school field trip or so. I’m a city girl. I love L.A. and wouldn’t really live anywhere else.”
She recorded the last of the measurements. “There now. We are all finished. Hope that was painless.”
“Yes, pretty much. I survived.”
“Good. Now I have a few things in mind for you. I have to pull a few things from a couple designers. Is your event business casual or black tie?”
“Business. Let’s just say, I need to wow a few people and really make an impression.”
“Impressions are my thing. Bruce, you are in good hands. I will get these outfits pulled and come out to bring them to you for a fitting in the comfort of your own home in two days.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Bruce slid his feet in his boots. “I will expect to see you in a few days. Other than that, is there anything I can do for you?”
“I think that about covers it, Bruce.” She extended her hand to shake his.
“Thank you for your business.”
“You are very welcome, Kate. I’m trusting you to find just the right monkey suit.”
She playfully rolled her eyes. “Will do.”
After Bruce left, Kate could not shake the giddy feeling that churned inside of her. She liked a challenge. And Bruce’s sense of style was just that. A challenge. His fashion sense left a lot to be desired. That was usually the case with most of her clients, but working with Bruce, she would have to start at square one. Her clients came to her at varying levels of style, but since she mostly worked with rich businessmen and businesswomen and Beverly Hills housewives, she usually had a little something to work with.
She would have to put in a lot of work convincing him to wear what she suggested. It was obvious that he had a strong personality. He seemed a bit stubborn and stuck in his ways, but that would not be unlike every other socialite she had worked with. Her clients were quirky and she had a knack for dealing effectively with them so that would not be an issue.
Kate wondered if Bruce knew that she knew he was staring at her when she worked on his computer profile. His eyes traveled the length of her body when he spoke to her. She wondered what was going on in his mind when they spoke about his ranch and how he wanted to make a good impression at his event. From the look in his eyes, she could tell he was not thinking about the subject at hand. She knew what it looked like when a man admired her.
It had not been that long since she was the object of interest for someone. Men eyed her all of the time. She was a natural beauty. Long straight jet black hair, mahogany complexion, curvy hips, and an impeccable sense of style. Kate loved life and at twenty-seven, she felt like she had the world at her palms.
“Hey there, I’m back,” Linda called out from the front door.
“Oh great. Just in time.”
She finalized the rest of Bruce’s profile and turned to Linda.
“Wait, what is going on here?”
Kate looked around. “What are you talking about?”
“Who was here? You look, you’re blushing.”
Kate felt her cheeks heating, and all of a sudden she felt nervous.
“Oh my goodness. I’m not some high school girl. Of course I’m not blushing.” She self- consciously wiped her cheek as if she could have wiped away the rosiness of her cheeks.
“Sure. Okay. Whatever you say. Anyway, who is he? Is he one of those millionaire playboys who cruise Beverly Hills in his Lamborghini spending his family’s money all day on posh models?”
“Not at all. Actually, he is just the opposite.”
Linda stopped flipping through the sales receipts and turned to Kate. “Tell me more, Kate. Now you have me intrigued.”
Kate was giddy with excitement, but she did not want to let that on to Linda. She did not really believe it herself.
She tried to play it off. “His name is Bruce. He’s definitely not a millionaire. He’s just this simple man that runs a ranch somewhere outside of the city. I don’t even think he comes into L.A. that much. Well at least his clothes say that he doesn’t get to L.A. that much.” Kate shrugged.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?” Linda drummed her cotton candy pink nails on the desk, waiting for an answer.
The door chimed.
“Welcome to Grey’s Fashion Boutique. How can we help you?”
Kate could not believe her eyes. Linda was greeting none other than Bruce. Her heart threatened to jump right out of her chest. When she opened her mouth to speak, she could barely get the words out of her mouth.
“Yes, well. I-. Here.” Bruce passed her a steaming hot cup of coffee.
“Thank you. You really did not have to do this.”
Bruce nodded. “I saw that you were finished yours and I thought it would be a great gesture for the start of our relationship. Well, working relationship.”
Kate sipped the hot liquid. “Wow, and you got exactly what I liked?”
Bruce shrugged. “I read your preference from the side of the cup. I really can’t take all of the credit.”
Everyone laughed and it set them all at ease.
“Bruce, this is my co-worker and pretty much partner, Linda. Linda, this is Bruce, one of our new clients. We are going to dress him for a gala he has to attend in a few weeks.”
Linda came over and shook Bruce’s hand while Kate sipped on her coffee.
“Nice to meet you, Bruce. Please know that you are in good hands with us here at Grey’s. We love what we do and Kate is one of the best in the city.”
There was Bruce, giving her that look again. The look that said he wanted her, wanted something she was not sure she was willing to give. It was about more than the coffee he had just brought her.
“Well, I just wanted to bring coffee as a sort of peace offering to you. I know I was a bit of a bear earlier and I want you to know that you have carte blanche when working with me. I am yours to dress.”
When he spoke, he held his arms spread open, voice booming. In that moment, he was attractive, the openness he displayed was a bit endearing.
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