“As you can see, Chanel, it’s a very kind offer. We’ll take on your accrued debt and keep the company afloat for the next six months until it’s profitable again.”
I look across the table at Chuck, mid-50s, bad comb-over and a gut from too much foie gras and caviar. He’s smiling at me like it’s his birthday and I’m the hired stripper.
Beside him, his partner Bradley is regarding me with dismissive amusement. I’m used to it, though. Being the only self-made female billionaire in the world means dealing with men like this. It’s a man’s world – a ruthless one, and being a woman means having to be twice as ruthless as everyone else. And that’s fine by me.
My parents were drug addicts. After suffering enough neglect and abuse, I had myself emancipated at 15. I worked through high school, got into Harvard on a full scholarship, then dropped out my sophomore year to start my first clothing company. Men’s clothing.
I sold that company two-years later for ten million. I used that money to found another company, which was so successful I ended up buying my first company back. Over the next seven years, I expanded, spread nationwide, and then eventually across the globe, destroying or absorbing my competitors, until finally, a year and a half ago today, I crossed the billionaire threshold. One year before thirty too.
But now, thanks to a sudden plummet in the stock market, the company has a cash flow problem and I’m in a position I never, ever wanted to be in; I need investors. I need money. And that’s why I’m meeting with these two pricks today.
“It’s a good deal, Chanel,” Bradley says, his eyes on his phone, not even bothering to look at me. “And we don’t mind helping you out.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a second there, champ. You aren’t helping me out. You’re making a business deal with me that will make you money too.”
“True.” He shrugs. “But you need us right now more than we need you.”
My blood starts to boil. I inherited my father’s temper, and over the years have learned to keep it in check, but these two are getting on my last nerve. And as I scan through the contract, I see something that pushes me over the edge.
“Uhm, what the fvck is this!?” I exclaim, getting to my feet. I point to the clause at the bottom of the page. I can tell by Chuck’s reaction he was hoping I wouldn’t notice it. “You want me to step down as CEO?”
“We think it’s only fair,” Chuck says, doing his best to be diplomatic.
“After all, it was under your leadership that the company got into this state.”
That’s it. Fvck these guys. I snatch the contract and throw it in Bradley’s face. “You’re lucky I’m not a big guy or I’d kick your sneaky little a*ss. Now get the fvck out of my office before I have my security guards drag you out by your d!cks.”
I can tell by their faces that these guys have never been spoken to like this by a woman before. And they don’t like it.
Bradley is on his feet first. His face red, he points a threatening finger at me. “You’re going to regret this, bitch!”
“Bring it on!” I shout as he strides out of my office. Chuck may be just as big a snake as his partner, but he knows how to keep the façade going.
“Sorry, Chanel,” he says. “We thought it was in the best interest of the company.”
“Sure you did, Chuck. Get the fvck out, okay?”
I don’t know which of them I hate more; the obvious a*ssh0le who says what’s on his mind, or the sneaky prick who comes at you sideways with a smile then stabs you in the back. As soon as he’s gone, I slump back in my chair. Amy comes in the side door with a cranberry seltzer and a protein bar.
“So that went well?” she says with a smile. Amy, my 20-year-old assistant who’s been with me for the last two years, is an infinite wellspring of positive energy.
“If only I was a big man…”
“Then you’d have a lawsuit on your hands,” she replies. “Not just financial problems.”
I sigh and take a sip of the seltzer. “Who’s next on the docket?”
Amy is the only one I allow myself to show weakness around, and as such, I don’t feel bad slumping forward on my desk and groaning like I just stubbed my toe. “No, no, no, Amy. Why?”
“He’s a jerk, but he has the capital.”
“Time Magazine’s ‘Number One Stud Billionaire.’ Can you imagine them saying that about a woman? It would be, ‘Number One Floozy’ or ‘Number One Slut’ or something like that.”
“He is handsome.” Amy winks. “Maybe it turns out to be more than a meeting?”
I wave a warning finger at her as I dig into my protein bar. “Don’t do that. Don’t even put that out there into the universe. You know my philosophy on this.”
“No men, just work and working out?”
“Right.” I nod. “Men are trouble.”
Amy shrugs with a smile. “My man isn’t. He’s fun. And a good workout.”
“Are you my life coach?” I ask. “Until then, just bring me my sodas and answer my calls for me.”
Amy gives me that look that only a mother should give her daughter – a kind of patronizing, I know better than you kind of look that makes me want to kill her.
“Okay. I’m just saying.”
“You’re meeting him at seven at Carlie’s.”
“Seven?” I ask. “Why so late?”
“It was the only time he had available,” Amy replies. “I’ll have the car waiting.”
Jesus. Of course the only time Mr. Studmuffin has available is seven. He better not try to romance me. I’m a businesswoman. I keep my personal and professional life completely separate. Of course, not having a professional life makes that pretty easy, but I didn’t get to where I am today by being distracted by men. Their good looks. Their games. All it does is distract, and the last man I want to meet with today is one who knows just how distracting he is. So when the car drops me off at Carlie’s, part of me is wondering whether or not I should just go home and let the whole company collapse.
Not really, of course.
I find Titus already sitting when I come in. God, he’s not even wearing a suit. I’m wearing a black skirt, gray shirt, and a black blazer, looking very professional. Titus, on the other hand, is wearing designer jeans, loafers, and a tight white T-shirt. Only he could get away with that in a place like this.
“Chanel.” He smiles, not even bothering to get up as I come over. “How the hell are ya?”
“Titus,” I reply, forcing my own smile as I sit. “Interesting time for a business meeting.”
Titus chuckles. “Business meetings are boring. Dinner, on the other hand—”
“Just so you know, I’m here for business,” I tell him. “Nothing more.”
Titus responds by raising his hands like I’m holding him at gunpoint. “Hey, of course. What else would we be here for?”
Uh-huh. Sure, buddy. Titus knows exactly what he’s doing, and I can tell by the look in his eyes he’s here for a whole lot more than business.