“It sounds like exactly the kind of thing we’ve been talking about,” Wyatt says, leaning back in his chair, his fountain pen tapping lightly against the pad of paper he’s been jotting loose notes on for the past hour and a half. “It definitely hits our target of expanding in Europe, that’s for sure,” he adds with a laugh.
He’s right, and at a record pace, much faster than I ever imagined Elite X having a true presence on a global scale.
“But is it too fast?” Lucas chimes in, giving voice to my concerns.
“That was my initial thought when Jasper brought the project to you,” Owen interjects, his arms coming to rest on the table in our small conference room. “But the presentation assuaged most of the concerns I had. As your business manager, I can tell you the financial impact is negligible.”
“Really?” Wyatt asks. “It seems like a rapidly paced rollout like this could be a huge burden.”
Owen shakes his head. “It’s all about level of investment and physical assets. Jasper made it clear the board is looking at Elite X primarily as an innovative think tank. Your actual investment would be…I’m guesstimating…less than 25 grand per resort? Maybe 50 at the most, if you get more elaborate or extreme, but the Mendoza Group is shouldering almost all of the financial burden. Marketing, resources, staffing, tech…” He shrugs. “I really don’t see a downside to this.”
Three sets of eyes turn my way, surely curious as to why I’ve been quiet for the better part of the past 90 minutes.
Normally, I’m a little too vocal in these meetings. Whenever there’s a potential business partner or investor, I see it as my own personal charge to vet them thoroughly.
I mean, this enterprise is my baby. Sure, Lucas and Wyatt care about Elite X, too, and we’re equal partners, so it’s not like any of us is more invested—financially, anyway—than the others, but I created this company from nothing but ideas, caffeine, and some serious dedication. I take all the meetings we have like this—meetings that could completely change the face of the company—seriously, with absolute focus.
So why my silence this afternoon? Something feels a little too good to be true.
“What’s the catch?” I ask, my eyes flitting to each of their faces. “You said it yourself, Owen—they’re taking on almost all the financial burden, so…what’s the catch?”
Lucas leans back in his chair, his eyes focused and serious, unlike his usual day-to-day attitude. As a pro surfer, the man has created a life where he gets to do nothing but surf, work out, and hang at the beach with his friends and girlfriend, but when he sits in that chair across from me, I can always take him seriously.
“Why does there have to be a catch?”
“Because people don’t just hand you your dream,” Wyatt answers, his voice rumbling across the room from where he’s now standing with his back to us, facing out one of the larger windows overlooking Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach.
“I mean, the level of exposure would be unparalleled,” I tell them. “The Mendoza Group is essentially asking us to create menus of curated experiences for close to 50 resorts. This is the dream, right? International curated experiences, influential clientele, high level of visibility. But something feels almost…too perfect.”
“Jasper wouldn’t bring us a dud,” Wyatt says, spinning around to face us, his brows furrowed in a way that says he means business. “And he wouldn’t bring someone to us who isn’t sincere. I say let’s give it a chance, give the Mendoza Group the courtesy of our best attempt at, say…five resorts. At worst, we’re out 250. At best, we’re in the black and setting course for another 40-something resorts, maybe more if they continue expanding.”
Lucas nods his head. “Seems fair. Every business concept comes with a financial risk. For us, this too-perfect deal comes with the risk of losing the full initial investment if it goes sour.” He shrugs. “If we’re looking at 250, I’m comfortable with that number as our loss factor. I want to see what we can do with this.”
The three of them look at me, and I know they’re leaving the decision in my hands. It’s an unspoken rule—one they instituted, not me—where I get the final say on something with potentially large consequences.
I lick my lips and flip quickly through the pros and cons in my head, trying to play back some of Jasper’s presentation on behalf of the Mendoza Group.
But I can’t help it.
I want it too badly.
“Alright, five resorts. Let’s see how it all shakes out.”
Lucas gives me a big grin as he stands from his chair and reaches out to slap my hand once, then twice, something we’ve been doing since we were kids.
Wyatt stays stoic, still at the head of the table, both hands braced against the beautiful mahogany piece that dominates our conference room.
“The only concern I still have is the timeline they laid out for us,” he says. “If they truly want us to begin moving forward at the start of the year, we need to visit Les Émeraudes before the end of the month.”
“Why is that a concern?” I ask, not following Wyatt’s train of thought.
It makes sense that the Mendoza Group would want us to visit their flagship resort before meeting in person to discuss further details. It’s a chance for us to get familiar with the way they run their business, for us to see what kind of amenities and opportunities they already provide to guests so we can build off of that for what we’re creating for them.
“It’s December, Otto,” Wyatt says, his lips ticking up at the sides. “We’re two weeks away from Christmas.”
My eyes dart back and forth between the two of them, still not understanding the issue.
“Again…why is that a problem?” I shrug my shoulders, my palms opening and closing in my lap a reflection of the confusion I feel. “This is a chance to get a lay of the land before meeting with the people who might be changing the landscape of Elite X as we know it.”
Lucas’ head falls backward and he groans.
“Spending the holidays in Switzerland sounds cool and all, but some of us have plans for Christmas that would be pretty tough to break.”
That was from Wyatt, and only when I see the soft look on his face do I realize the one thing that’s different this year in comparison to last.
Wyatt and Lucas and I have been friends forever, but we’ve always been a team of orphans.
Okay, not real orphans. In fact, maybe we’re the anti-orphan. Our parents are around, but we’re not close in any capacity. Maybe that’s why we’re so close to each other.
Or…used to be, before they both decided to fall in love, Lucas with our friend Lennon and Wyatt with Lucas’ half-sister from another family.
I let out a long, irritated sigh, any ideas I had of the three of us enjoying the holidays drinking and working abroad falling to pieces before they were even able to truly form.
“I can go by myself,” I tell them, deciding to just shoulder the burden instead of making it some drawn-out problem. “I mean, I’m the one who needs to feel like this is the smart move, right? I can spend some time around the resort, getting a feel for how their business runs at a basic, customer-facing level, and if everything seems like it’s on the up and up, we can move forward with the January meeting feeling a little more confident.”
The two of them exchange a glance, a brief one, but something I can decode while only paying minimal attention.
“And there’s no reason for you to feel bad for me, or guilty or whatever,” I insist, forcing an easy smile. “Christmas hasn’t ever been a thing for my family, you both know that. Hell, half the time I spent the holidays with you guys anyway. I won’t be missing anything if I head out there.”
“Are you sure?” Wyatt asks, but I can hear the hope in his voice, the tiny sliver that begs for this to be a solution that allows this deal to move forward, a deal we all want to work out.
I nod my head. “Absolutely. I mean, it’s the dream right?”
* * *
I stare at our assistant, Quinn, with a bland expression. She’s my employee, isn’t she? Is she even allowed to tell me no?
“Quinn, this isn’t a request. I’m letting you know I need you to come with me.”
She crosses her arms, the little wrinkles between her brows growing deeper but her face not becoming any more formidable than it was before. It actually makes her even more gorgeous, if that’s possible—though I doubt saying that to her will result in anything positive.
“And you just expect me to run along after you like a puppy because you called?”
I lean a hip against her desk, my lips quirking up at the sides. “Well…yeah, pretty much. I mean, this definitely falls under the ‘other duties as assigned’ part of your job description, doesn’t it?”
She just continues to glare at me.
I reach across her desk and snag a piece of chocolate out of the small glass dish she has in the corner, but before I can unwrap it, she slaps it out of my hand.
“Those aren’t for you.”
“Oh yeah? Well who are they for?” I retrieve the mini-size Almond Joy and hold it up between us. “Because I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in this office who actually eats these.”
Quinn’s jaw clenches so hard a wrinkle shows up along the ridge of her nose.
When she doesn’t say anything, I smirk and unwrap the candy.
“That’s what I thought. And just so you know, there’s a section in your job description about travel for work and last-minute changes to scheduling based on the needs of the company.”
With that, I shove the Almond Joy in my mouth, enjoying both the delicious taste and how irritated Quinn looks right now. I know I’m paraphrasing when it comes to her job responsibilities, but I do know her job description inside and out.
I’m the one who wrote it.
When I created Elite X a few years ago, it started as a way to party with my friends and get the word out that we had the best events in town. Lucas and Wyatt came on board to help expand things to the next stage: curating experiences for a more elite, wealthy clientele. Those folks expect things done to a certain level, including on a timeframe that works for them, regardless of what’s convenient for us. When it became apparent that we needed an assistant, I made sure the job description was clear that during some seasons, the right candidate would be flexible and willing to work when we needed them.
So, yeah, if I call, I expect Quinn to come running.
“Well, I already have plans for the holidays,” she says, her head tilting back and her chin jutting forward. “You expect me to just cancel them? Without any kind of warning?”
“I’m giving you the warning. We need to leave on the 22nd and can fly back on the 28th. That’s a week away—plenty of notice.”
“Plenty of notice!” she repeats, her voice incredulous and her eyes wide. “You’re giving me seven days of notification before we need to travel out of the country at Christmas, and you think that’s acceptable?”
I let out a sigh, wishing conversations with Quinn didn’t always feel like an argument. It’s not like she has a problem with authority. She’s technically an assistant for all of us, but it sure seems like she gets along fine with Wyatt and Lucas. For some reason, everything with me is a battle.
Her eyes watch mine for a long moment, and I see when her resolve breaks…when she notices that mine hasn’t.
“If you want me to come, I want a bonus,” she finally says, and it’s the first time she’s looked away from me since she spun around in her chair to glare at me angrily a few minutes ago. “A big one.”
“Oh yeah? How big?”
She pauses for a second then licks her lips. “I want triple my Christmas bonus from last year.”
As soon as I say it, her jaw drops in shock, any kind of power she thinks she has almost melting away, replaced by dollar signs.
That’s how it always is, though. Everyone can be bought—a fact I hate with every bone in my body.
“We’ll need to fly commercial. You should be cc’d on the emails between us and Jasper. You can just confirm with him for dates and then book our travel.”
Quinn blinks a few times and then nods. “Yeah…yes, I’ll get right on it.”
I snag another Almond Joy, but Quinn has nothing to say to me about it this time, so I turn and head down the short hallway that leads to my office, shutting the door for a moment of privacy before collapsing into the chair behind my desk.
I’m excited about this deal with the Mendoza Group, no doubt. And Wyatt’s right—Jasper is a trusted associate working at an international scale that many people only dream of achieving. He wouldn’t bring us something he thinks is anything other than a solid move for a business partnership.
Part of me wants to use the words ‘sure bet,’ but in my 25 short years, I’ve learned there’s no such thing. People don’t do the things you expect them to do, and life has a way of fucking you around when you least expect it.
So when it comes to this deal…well, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see where the chips fall.