AJ rested her folded arm on her belly. “I bought an ad last year and I didn’t see the benefits.”
“That’s why the committee hired a new PR company. We’re expanding the guide this year.”
“I never asked where the ad money actually goes.”
“A portion goes to printing the brochures. A portion goes to the local committee. They use it to try and bring in bigger sponsors.”
“So local sponsorship by local businesses isn’t enough? If you’ve got bigger fish to fry, why should I fork out my money?”
Talk about prickly. “Let me explain. Bigger sponsors will provide bigger payouts for the event purse, which will attract better competitors, which will bring more people into the area and into the area businesses. We aren’t looking to replace the business ad you’d place with one for a bigger sponsor.”
“Oh. Well, that makes sense.”
“Would you like to see examples of ads we’re doing for other businesses? And hear the promotion I’ve sketched out, which requires little to no effort on the part of the advertisers?”
When Georgia had shown AJ all the options and the pregnant woman’s only responses were a sniff, a grunt or a shrug, Georgia lost all confidence in herself and any hope of a sale. She tidied up her papers. “Thanks for listening.”
“That’s it?” AJ’s eyes narrowed. “If you’re done, why do you still look so tense?”
“Because you make me nervous.”
AJ blinked with total distrust. “Because you want me to buy an ad that badly?”
“That’s not it.” She blew out a slow breath. “Between us? Cold-call selling is not my strong suit. Add in trying to convince people that I’m not the aloof cheerleader they remember, but a professional woman…isn’t exactly a cakewalk.” Why don’t you just blurt out all your insecurities in front of a potential client, Georgia?
“I understand where you’re coming from because I’m definitely not the mousy girl I was in high school. And thank God for that.” AJ stepped out from behind the counter. “Come on. I’m gonna give you a little shoulder massage. On the house.”
Georgia blurted out, “Why?”
“Because I can feel the tension rolling off you. I have a Swedish in thirty minutes and it’ll be good to limber up my hands.” AJ led her to what looked like a beauty chair, but in reverse form, with an open oval to place her face in and padded arms beneath it. The footrest was adjustable, she could put her feet in front, or behind like she was riding a motorcycle.
“You’ll need to take off your jacket. The blouse can stay on.” AJ leaned closer and tugged on the material. “It doesn’t look like it’ll rip.”
Rip? Like AJ planned to massage her violently enough to tear clothing? “Ah. I don’t know—”
“Relax.” AJ stood beside the chair, tapping her foot almost in challenge, waiting as Georgia climbed into the contraption.
“There. Now just pretend we’re two friends chatting at the beauty shop.”
Friends? Right. AJ could teach torture tactics. Georgia gasped when two fingers sank into the skin beside her shoulder blades, almost to the bone.
“You have had a massage before, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Just not like this. Then she felt several hard pinches up the back of her neck.
“So as to not keep you in suspense, I’ll buy an ad,” AJ said.
“Good,” she choked out.
“Has your business been doin’ well?”
More pressure as AJ ground her thumbs across Georgia’s shoulder. “It’s not my business.” Georgia explained, glad AJ couldn’t see her face when she grimaced in pain.
“When I graduated from trade school and set up shop in Sundance, I wasn’t sure I could make a go of it. Now I’ve got a steady enough clientele that I could be open eight hours a day, six days a week if I chose, but I keep it part time.” She grunted. “So you’ve hooked up with Tell.”
Didn’t take her long to bring that up. “We’ve been hanging out.”
“I heard you two were a couple.”
Georgia purposely ignored the past tense form were. “We went to our class reunion together.”
“I skipped my reunion. Keely and Chase were stars of our class anyway.” AJ pulled on a section of skin. “Kind of like you were the star of your class.”
“Not something I wanted, believe me. And I never felt that way.”
“Deck was the star. I was the girlfriend in the background with the cool, fun brother everyone loved.”
AJ’s hands stopped moving so vigorously. “Aw, shoot, Georgia, I forgot that your brother died. I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks. In some ways Tell reminds me of RJ. He’s outgoing.”
“Which means Tell goes out all the damn time. He’s had a lot of girlfriends, I mean a lot, but he’s never had a serious girlfriend.”
Rather than gasp and say I had no idea he was such a stud, she casually remarked, “Yes, that has come up in conversation.”
“Good. We’re all a little protective of him.”
Oh for Godsake, really? Like Tell McKay needed protection from her? She couldn’t let that comment slide. “Because innocent Tell has absolutely no experience with women like me, right?” Georgia said with an edge. “I’m the ball-busting bitch from his past who’s set her sights on breaking his poor little heart?”
“Ooh, snap,” AJ said.
“You’re not the first one to warn me off sweet, funny, perfect Tell McKay, AJ.”
“I never said he was perfect, but I’ll agree he’s sweet and funny. And I wasn’t warning you off him as much as I was just warning you. Tell isn’t ready to settle down. So don’t get your hopes up.”
Then it felt as if AJ were slicing along both sides of her spinal cord to make it easier to rip the bones clean out. With her bare hands. Or perhaps her teeth.
Finally AJ said, “Done.”
Georgia pushed herself up. “Thanks for the massage. Once I have a better handle on my schedule, I’ll book a full appointment.” She slipped on her jacket. “Let’s get the ad set up before your next victim arrives.”
She smiled cheekily at AJ and was totally shocked when the cranky pregnant woman laughed and said, “You know, cheerleader, I kinda like you.”
Despite the sale, Georgia was feeling less than confident at the next stop: India’s Ink and Sky Blue.
A woman and two small boys sat at a child-size plastic table by the front counter. A dark-haired baby bounced on the woman’s knee.
The woman wore a flowery sundress and a whole lot of tattoos. Her short, dark hair had randomly scattered streaks of electric blue. “Hi. If you’re here for a tat, it’ll have to wait until my husband returns for my little helpers.”
“I’m not here for that.”
Suspicious eyes zeroed in on Georgia’s briefcase. “Who are you and what are you selling?”
How many freakin’ times would she have to go through this spiel?
As many as it took to fill up the damn program guide.
Before she could regurgitate the pitch she’d committed to memory, the oldest boy said, “Mama, look! I drawed a fish!”
“That’s real good, Hudson baby, see if you can draw another one.”
He scowled at his mother. “I’m not a baby.”
“Sorry. I forget you’re a big boy now.”
These kids were the most beautiful children Georgia had ever seen. Had to be McKay kids with that black hair and those vivid blue eyes.
“You were saying?” the woman prompted.
“Sorry for staring, but your children are gorgeous.”
She smiled. “Thank you. They get those genes from their daddy.” She held out her hand. “India McKay.”
Georgia shook it. “Nice to meet you, India. It seems you’re busy, so I can come back later.”
“No. Stick around. I don’t usually bring the kids to work with me, but every once in a while I don’t have a choice.” She kissed the top of the baby girl’s head. “Show me what you’ve got. Spread out on the counter, away from madly coloring little boys.”
“Good plan.” After Georgia lined up the pieces and made her sales pitch, she felt India staring at her.
“Now I know why your name is familiar. You’re dating Tell.”
That connection took all of thirty seconds. “I guess.”
India’s blue gaze sharpened. “What do you mean you guess?”
How could she admit that the R word had never come up between them during the two weeks they were boinking like bunnies? “Umm… It’s complicated.”
“Not when it comes to a McKay male. They are highly territorial.”
Georgia wondered if the guys in the McKay family would take that as an insult or a compliment.
“So? What’s the deal with you two?”
This woman just expected her to blurt it out?
India laughed. “Oh, I get why you’re hedging about your relationship status and using the word complicated. Because Tell is in the d-bag stage right now.” She patted Georgia’s forearm. “Don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there.”
After the contracts were signed, a loud crash sounded behind them. The youngest boy had kicked over the table and was smacking it with a fat table leg.
“Ellison McKay! Drop that and park your butt on that chair right now, mister.”
“Don’t make me start counting.”
Ellison threw himself on the floor and started crying. His brother seized the opportunity to jump on him. Which only made the boy shriek louder.
“Hudson! What on earth is wrong with you? Get off your brother.”