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The Wrong Girl - Chapter 4, Part 1


Ellie
*
“No, you don’t understand, it’s an absolute nightmare,” I protested, popping a ketchup-laden fry into my mouth and washing it down with a gulp of amber ale.

After that disaster of epic proportions, I had no choice but to run away to the other side of town—where my best friend Tessa’s family owned the Aspen Ridge Brewery—for an emergency drink and comfort. I couldn’t risk being overheard by employees at the resort. It was just too humiliating.

“So your dad hired some hunky Air Force guy to work with you, closely, a guy that you’ve been swooning over all weekend, and you’re upset about it?” Tessa raised an eyebrow over her own pint. The bar was quiet for a Monday lunch rush, and we’d been able to chat undisturbed.
“I’m not upset he hired him, obviously. I’m upset he hired him to be my personal babysitter and tell me how to do my job. I don’t need someone following me around and looking over my shoulder. I know my job, and I’m damn good at my job,” I added vehemently, taking a giant bite of my burger so I could take a break from talking. Tessa had listened to me rant while my food cooled, and I’d now reached the point of repeating myself.

“You are good at your job,” she soothed, flicking her chestnut ponytail over her shoulder. “But from the sounds of it, he’s hoping this guy will help you transition into his job. That’s not a bad thing, is it? Instead of just giving you the ‘sink-or-swim’ approach, he’s trying to set you up for success?”

“It’s insulting,” I argued around my mouthful before swallowing. “Like he doesn’t think I can do it on my own. I have an MBA, for chrissakes. What more does he want from me?”

“I don’t know if you’re looking at it the right way,” Tessa disagreed. “I think all of this is just to help you be successful. He wants you to take over the biggest part of the family business—that’s a huge vote of confidence! Even your older brother handles less, running the ski resort. So I think he just wants to verify that you’re ready before he hands over the reins.”

“Maybe,” I grumbled saltily. “But I still don’t get why he had to spring this guy on me.”

“Well, maybe it will work in your favor. You can show Jake how you like to do things, and maybe he’ll agree with you over your dad. He could become an asset to you if you win him to your side.”

“Tess, he’s military. He’s come here to put me through boss boot camp or some shit. Plus, he works for my dad. He’s definitely not on my side in this scenario.”

“You never know,” she disagreed. “Maybe your little hookup is in your favor. You should try to work that angle and see if it does you any good.”

“I can’t, Tessa.” the whine in my voice was unmistakable. “Friday was an exception—I didn’t know he worked in lodging, so there was no conflict. But now I’m going to be working directly with him. 100% off limits.”

Tessa’s cheerful smile melted. “I’m sorry, Ellie. After how excited you were about him, I know this is a double bummer.”

“Exactly. I can’t tell if I’m more upset that my dad hired me a babysitter, or that the babysitter turned out to be the guy I’ve been fantasizing about for the last two days. God, Tess, it was so hot. He just has this… intensity to him, but he’s also, like, disarmingly sweet.”

A shiver ran down my spine as I recalled Jake twining his fingers in my hair, pulling firmly to drag my head back so he could pepper fiery kisses down my neck.

Tessa sighed dreamily. “That sounds amazing. There is a disturbing lack of hot, fit, single guys in this town. They’re either gay, taken, or only here for a week. Or they reek of patchouli or pot, sometimes both.” Her eyes drifted to her fellow bartender, a skinny white guy with long, dirty blonde locs and a scraggly beard.

I stifled the giggle that rose in my throat. “No prospects, huh?”

She rolled her green eyes. “Please. I’m thinking about ordering one in from Russia. Is that a thing, like the opposite of mail-order brides? Can I get a mail-order hottie for a husband?”
“Girl, you own a brewery. If you can’t find an eligible man, we’re all doomed.”

“My family owns a brewery.” She tapped the side of her nose. “You know exactly why that distinction is important. And the only guys I meet here are tourists with their families, tourists looking to hook up, or locals coming in for the $9.99 lunch special.” She glanced meaningfully at my plate.

“Hey, I came here to talk to you; food was just the bonus. I can pay full price if you want. Just because I like a cheap meal doesn’t mean I can’t buy you flowers, baby.” I leaned in suggestively and waggled my eyebrows.

That drew a laugh from her. “I’m just teasing you, but you know what I mean. At least you have Zach. I have no one.”

“Tess, I don’t have Zach. We broke up after college.”

“Only because you went out of state for your MBA,” she argued back. “And you guys were on-again, off again for ages when you both came back.”

“That wasn’t anything serious,” I insisted. “We just go way back. It’s comfortable. We’ve known each other forever and we’re both in the same position. He’s as stuck at Snowshoe as I am at Aspen Ridge, family drama and all.”

“Yeah, well, methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Tessa replied in a singsong.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“All I’m saying is, he’s exactly what you say you need: a peer who will never be an employee. He’s super hot and also understands your position in the family business because his family has the same business.”

“Yeah, well, that’s part of the problem. Because he wants to take over our resort and form a network under Snowshoe.”

“What did your dad think?”

I almost choked on my beer. “Are you kidding? You think I told him that? I didn’t want to have to visit my dad in jail. There’s no way in a million years my dad would be on board for a merger, let alone my brother or the Blackwells. I’m sure the Dubois kid would agree to whatever got him more money, but my dad and Robert? They bleed for this mountain. They’d never sell out.”

“Are you so sure it’d be a sellout? I thought it was more like giving access to people staying at Snowshoe to ski here and vice versa.”

“I’m sure. He laid out his whole scheme in complete detail. We’d be beholden to their board for all the ways they wanted us to run our business. No thanks. My dad and Robert made sure they collectively had sixty percent of the shares when they brought on investors. Even once James, Reece, Stella, Blaise, and I inherit, all of us will have larger shares than any of the board. They worked it out in advance, to make sure of it. If any of us decide to sell, we have to offer our shares to resort family to purchase first. So there’s no way in hell my dad would even consider something like Zach proposed.”

My blood boiled just to think of it. We’d been moving toward reconciling—Tessa wasn’t wrong, we were a great match—and then he let slip his grand idea. A team of investors built snowshoe Ridge Resort, and Zach’s family had the largest single share, but the ruthless board outmatched them. They built a quaint resort town about twenty minutes from us, perfectly laid out, the way Napoleon III redesigned Paris—by plowing over the locals and rebuilding to suit their own needs. Oh, they paid the businesses in the small village a fair amount to pack up, and then razed the entire area. But while beautiful, Snowshoe had none of the historical charm that most of the other local resorts had. They literally tore it all down. It was like winter Disney World now, completely manufactured.

Our resort was the lifeblood for the entire town of Aspen Ridge. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if my family weren’t at the helm, protecting the locals that supported us.

Anyway, after Zach told me what he was after, I couldn’t trust that he was trying to get back together with me for the reasons he said. What if it was just a tactic to get Aspen Ridge? The doubts crept in until I just couldn’t do it anymore and called it quits for good.

“I suppose you’re right,” Tessa sighed. “And I can’t even date him, out of solidarity for my bestie. What a waste.” 

I knew she was joking, but it still sent a twinge through my heart. Even if I couldn’t trust his motives, I still cared about him. The truth be told; he was a great boyfriend. Kind, attentive, and generous. Even though he technically owned the resort, I always saw him treat the staff with respect, and his management approach was much like my own. So while I didn’t want him, I still wanted him to be happy.

I shrugged and rolled my eyes. “Hey if you want my sloppy seconds, be my guest. But you should know he snores like a freight train.”

“Snoring?” She feigned disgust. “Absolutely not. I’ll settle for patchouli and pot.”

We dissolved in a fit of giggles, and I felt the crush of anger in my chest loosen. This was why I came here—I knew Tessa would help put my mental train back on the tracks.

And she was right. In his own way, my dad was trying to help me out. He just didn’t believe I could run Aspen Ridge Lodging my way—perhaps it was from his experience taking over the business. But in my world, today, we believed in different methods. I learned everything they taught me at business school, but I also had a lifetime of experience in our family business, and I knew it intimately. I knew which practices we could update, and so many ways we could make things better for our staff. Happy staff made happy customers, which was one reason I insisted on paying for the best at our end of season parties. When the staff felt appreciated, they kept coming back and passed that appreciation along to the customers. ‘The way it’s always been done’ was a tired, dated excuse for not innovating.

So before I gave up and just did what Dad wanted to get him out of my way, I resolved to get Jake on my side. I could show him that my methods may be different, but that didn’t mean they were wrong. If Jake, with all the military establishment/brainwashing, could see my side, then perhaps my dad could, too.

I just had to set the boundary now, because what happened Friday could never happen again. If my dad ever found out, he’d lose his mind—his one rule was to keep business and personal life separate.

Not that it was my fault I didn’t know who Jake was, but it was sort of my fault that Jake didn’t know who I was, and I’d done it on purpose.

So no matter how I felt about it, I had to keep things strictly professional with Jake.
From now on.


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