What a Girl Wants | Fillmore & Greenwich

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Sebastian Tate knows two things. One: Life is short. Two: Family is all that matters.

Which is why he left his successful advertising firm in New York to take a prolonged sabbatical in London​. His days of being a high-powered mogul are happily behind him.

Until a former business associate calls in a debt. Reluctantly, Sebastian returns to San Francisco to help the man’s daughter build her homegrown organic skincare company into an international brand.

But Ariana Warren isn’t the spoiled little rich girl Sebastian expects her to be. Independent and smart, Ariana has distinct ideas about her business and life, and they don’t include Daddy’s help–or Sebastian’s. In fact, Ariana doesn’t want him at all. Which is a problem, because she’s exactly what he wants. With Ariana pushing him away, Sebastian decides to put all his advertising efforts into selling her on the fact he’s​ what she wants, too.

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Sneak Peek ~ Chapter One

Where the hell were her car keys, and why did they always disappear when she was late?

“Except I’m always late,” Ariana mumbled, sifting through her bag as she walked down the steps of her apartment building. She was already guaranteed a lecture from her dad—he was always on her case these days—but she didn’t need the added guilt he’d lay on her for delaying her mom’s Sunday brunch.

Damn it, where were her keys? She shoved aside a half-eaten protein bar and the notebook she wrote her ideas in and felt the bottom.

No keys, but she found her lost cell phone.

Brandishing it in victory, she did the logical thing and called her younger sister. “This is all your fault,” she said the moment Annabelle answered.

“What’s my fault?” Belle asked in her usual, peppy voice. She owned a women’s athletic line—sounding like she was high on endorphins came with the territory.

“Being so organized and perfect. As the younger one, you’re supposed to be more flawed, and the focus of Dad’s woe.”

Belle laughed. “I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Sure it is. At brunch, you’re supposed to be the one he rags on. Instead he’s going to sing your praises and wonder why I can’t be more like you.”

“You are like me, just different.”

“Ha!” If they were apples from her parents’ tree, they’d fallen on opposite sides. They were both creative, but it’d taken her over thirty years to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up; Annabelle had known she wanted to be a clothing designer from the time she was a little girl.

Belle also had the business sense to accomplish her goals. Ariana didn’t really have goals, business or otherwise. She just liked making people feel good.

She was fiercely proud of her younger sister and didn’t hold her success against her, but sometimes she wished Belle would screw up just a little to take some of the attention from her. “At brunch, if Dad gets out of control, knock something over, okay?”

“Uh . . . Didn’t I tell you I’m in LA?” Belle asked.

“What?” Ariana put her hand on her forehead. “You’re abandoning me?”

“No. I just have some meetings tomorrow. I’ll be home Tuesday.”

“I can’t believe you abandoned me.”

Belle laughed. “You’re so—”

The phone went silent.

“Hello?” Ariana held it out to look at the screen. Dead. Of course. Who knew when she’d charged it last.

“Hey, Ariana,” a chipper voice said from behind her.

Ariana startled, looked up to find Esme crossing the street toward her. If she had to bottle Esme into a product, she’d have named it Sunshine and scented it with violets and honey. Esme always had a smile to give and a cheery greeting.

It made up for the fact that Esme was a little odd.

Well, everyone was odd, but when they handed out servings of strangeness, Esme got an extra helping. She always wrapped her hair in a colorful scarf and wore dozens of bracelets and flowy skirts, like she’d been a gypsy before landing in urban San Francisco.

It didn’t help that she was a psychic. She even had a gold neon sign in her window to proclaim it.

As far as Ariana was concerned, Esme added color to the black yoga pants and blue button-down shirts that infested the neighborhood, and color was always a nice thing.

“Hey, Esme. How are you?” she greeted her neighbor.

Esme opened her mouth, but then she frowned. Walking up to her, she leaned closer, sniffing. “What are you wearing?”

“Just the usual. I’m only going to my parents’ for brunch.” Ariana looked down at her ripped jeans. They were clean, and she was pretty sure her tank top was, too. She lowered her chin and smelled herself discreetly. “Why?”

“You don’t smell right.” Esme leaned in and inhaled deeply. Then her frown deepened and she looked up. “Why don’t you smell like peppermint?”

For some reason she’d never noticed how intense Esme’s eyes were. Up close like this, their gray was so light they were almost white.

Ariana leaned away, weirded out. “You know I make organic skincare products, right? I just used a different scent this time.”

“No.” Esme shook her head. “Wear the peppermint. Trust me. You’ll be happier.”

“Peppermint is a pleasant scent,” she agreed carefully as she edged away. “I didn’t know you liked peppermint so much, Esme. I’ll make you a moisturizer with it.”

“No, peppermint is for you.” Esme reached out and held her hand, her gaze direct and serious. “The olfactory senses play an important part in mating.”

She blinked. “Olfactory?”

“That means your sense of smell. It was the word of the day.” Esme grinned sheepishly. “I follow the OED on Twitter.”

This was why Esme was so great and yet so peculiar. “I know what olfactory means, but I don’t know how that applies to me because I don’t have a mate.”

“And you never will if you don’t wear the peppermint,” the woman said, hands on her hips. “Trust me, Ariana. Wear it all over, okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed even though it was strange. But then, that was Esme in a nutshell. “See you later.”

“And don’t change your hair.”

“My hair?” She touched her ponytail.

“The purple streaks.” Esme reached out to touch one. “They’re pretty.”

Ariana blinked. “I have no plans to change the color.”

“Oh good.” She smiled happily. Then she pointed to the old, little house across the street and the PSYCHIC sign blazing in the upstairs window. “I’m available anytime. Come see me.”

Ariana watched the woman walk away, a spring in her step like she was Dorothy walking down the Yellow Brick Road.

Shaking her head, she made a mental note to switch her body lotion to the peppermint-scented one just in case she ran into Esme again, and then ducked under the gate of the Greenwich Street Garage.

Tango music filled the airy space of the garage. George’s combat boots poked out from under the body of a car, tapping in rhythm to the beat.

Ariana walked up to the boots and nudged them with her foot.

George slid out on a rolling platform, a frown and grease smudge darkening her face. Her red hair was hidden by a backwards Giants cap, and she held some sort of wrench in her hand. “Dude, we’re closed.”

“I lost my keys.”

George rolled her eyes and pointed to the cluttered desk at the edge of the room. “In the middle drawer.”

“This is why you’re the best.” She and George Connolly had been fast friends since Ariana had moved into the neighborhood three years ago. George knew her well enough to have an extra set of all her keys, for when she couldn’t find her own. “You’re a lifesaver.”

George’s answer was the gruff sound of her platform rolling back under the carriage of the car.

Ariana rushed to her car, tossed her bag in, and took off. From the Marina, it took about half an hour to Seacliff, the ritzy neighborhood on the outer edge of the city where her parents lived.

She made it there in fifteen.

Fortunately, they had a circular driveway so she didn’t have to look for parking. She screeched her Prius to a halt and hopped out.

Her dad was already at the door, holding it open, his brow furrowed. “I shudder when I see you drive like that.”

“Then close your eyes.” She got up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “How’s the easy life?”

“Overrated,” he grumbled, holding the door open for her to enter.

She grinned. He’d retired at the beginning of the year at the advice of his doctor, who cautioned him about being a walking heart attack.

Since then he’d been driving everyone crazy—particularly himself, her mom, and her. Ariana supposed it was hard going from ruling the world to playing golf all day. Her dad wasn’t the idle sort.

Which was why she tried to cut him slack every time he wanted to butt into her business. But it was difficult, because he’d been more and more determined to make her over into something she didn’t want to be.

As if on cue, he said, “Have you talked to Sebastian Tate yet?”

“Nope,” she said cheerfully, setting her bag on a side table.

His chest expanded, and he exhaled as though she was deeply vexing. “Ariana, can you just talk to him? He’s brilliant when it comes to branding. I think he can help take your business to the next level.”

That was the thing: She was happy right where she was. She made just enough with her Dew Me products to afford her rent and her simple life, without having to work as hard as Annabelle did. Sure—there wasn’t much left over for extras, but she didn’t need much more than she had. “Trust me, Dad. I’m good where I am. I know what’s right for me.”

“Have I ever said anything to the contrary?” The lines between his eyebrows deepened, the way they did when he was getting agitated. “Even when you decided to be a jewelry maker?”

She wrinkled her nose. Her beading phase wasn’t inspired. “No.”

“Or when you wanted to make birdhouses?”

Her birdhouses were adorable, if she said so herself. It was just bad timing that they didn’t sell. “No.”

“Or when—”

“I get it, Dad,” she interrupted. It’d taken her a while to figure out what she was good at. But now she was on track, and she wasn’t going to mess it up by overreaching when she was in a perfectly happy place. She took her cell phone out of her bag. “Do you have a phone charger, Dad?”

“Ariana, don’t try to redirect me.” He frowned at her. “I want your business to be every bit as successful as it could be. I’m concerned about your well-being.”

“I know, Dad.” If it were up to Edward Warren, she’d be in all the chain stores.

The mere thought made her stomach twist. She couldn’t do that—she didn’t know how. It’d taken her so long to be successful at something, even on such a small scale—she wasn’t about to risk blowing it all by overreaching.

He touched her hair. “Just talk to him, Ariana. For me.”

She sighed. “So now it’s the guilt?”

“Whatever works, sweetheart.” He smiled. “Sebastian’s a smart man. He’ll have good ideas for you.”

“No doubt.” She just wasn’t interested—at least not in his business ideas. He himself? That was another matter. His voice was yummy. So yummy she’d kept his messages to listen to them over and over again. Not that she’d admit it—certainly not to her father.

She couldn’t help it; she had an aural fixation. One time she dated a guy only because his Australian accent was so delicious, despite the fact that he had bad body odor.

Sebastian Tate was probably ancient, and she wasn’t into older men—she already had one father—but she couldn’t help closing her eyes and listening to him whisper in her ear. His voice made her shiver just imagining it.

“You should listen to Sebastian,” her dad said with uncanny prescience. “Even if he says something about your image, like if you need to fix your hair color.”

What was it about her hair today that had people commenting on it? She liked her hair; it made her feel like a living canvas. Her dad had never loved it. Not that she cared. Much. “Is Mom in the kitchen?”

“Yes.” Her dad gave her a stern look. “We’ll continue to discuss this after lunch.”

“Sure thing, Dad,” she lied as she headed toward her mom and sanity.

Lillian Warren chopped vegetables in the kitchen. She wore yoga pants from Annabelle’s line, her feet bare on the hardwood. Her hair had become blonder over the years, and she had a few small lines here and there, but otherwise she looked the same as always.

The only way her mother was different was the faint smell of paint that clung to her now. After Belle went off to college, Lillian had decided to take up oil painting. She’d set up her own studio in one of the spare rooms and hadn’t looked back.

Her mom was talented too, in a way Ariana never had been when she’d thought art was her thing. It’d been for a split-second, but she knew she wasn’t good enough to do it for a living. She guessed the art gene missed her just like the business one had.

Her mom looked over her shoulder with a warm smile. “I’m roasting a chicken, honey. I hope that’s okay.”

“I love your chicken.” She grabbed a carrot from the cutting board. “Mom, do you know where the phone chargers are?”

“Try your dad’s office. In the top drawer.”

Because her dad was such a neat freak. He flipped out whenever there was too much clutter on the counters. She kept trying to tell him that a power supply wasn’t clutter, but he never bought it.

She walked into his office, pausing to peek in. “Dad? You in here?”

He wasn’t, so she went straight to his desk. As she reached for the drawer, she kicked a box just under the desk and knocked it over. The top came off and some papers and photos spilled out.

“Super,” she murmured, bending down to put it all back to order. She stuffed the folders and envelopes back in and gathered up the pictures that had spread on the floor. Picking up the picture of her parents on their wedding day, she smiled. They looked at each other like they couldn’t help themselves.

Slowing down, she looked at the other photos as she picked them up. She hadn’t seen most of them. There were some of her dad when he was a young man. Some had people she didn’t recognize. Maybe college friends, she decided. Her parents didn’t have any family left that they were close to.

She picked up the last picture, of a woman holding a baby. She was about to dismiss it when she did a double take.

That baby was her.

There was no mistaking her lopsided dimple. Her parents and Belle had teased her about it all her life.

So weird. She lifted the photo closer. She’d never seen a picture of herself so young. They’d all been damaged by water eons ago. It looked like maybe she was six months old.

But who was the woman?

Ariana studied her, wondering if it was her dad’s sister-in-law. His brother had died in Iraq sometime after she’d been born, and all she knew about her uncle’s wife was that she wanted nothing to do with them.

It had to be her, right? Ariana held the picture closer. Because the woman didn’t look like she wanted to be holding a baby.

Taking the picture—and her power supply—Ariana returned to the kitchen. As she plugged her phone in, she said, “Mom, look what I found in Dad’s office.”

“You know your father doesn’t like you going through his things. It disrupts his sense of order.”

“Then he should leave the chargers out on the kitchen counter like normal people.”

“Your father has never been normal.” Her mom glanced at her. “Will you hand me that platter?”

“I found a baby picture of myself.” She handed the fancy China plate to her mom. “Do you know who this woman is? Is it Dad’s sister-in-law?”

Her mom glanced at it. She went pale and the dish slipped from her hands, shattering on the kitchen tile.

“Mom.” She pulled her mom away from the broken shards. “Are you okay?”

Lillian pressed a palm to her forehead. “Where did you find that picture, Ariana?”

“I told you. In Dad’s office. I knocked over a box on the floor.”

“Give it to me.” Her mother held out a shaking hand.

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” she said, handing it over.

Her mother frowned at the picture, an array of emotions crossing her face.

“What happened in here?” her dad said as he walked in.

Before she could say anything, Lillian held out the photo. “Ariana found this.”

He took it and stared at it. Then he faced her, tension lines stark between his brows. “Why were you going through my things?”

“I only knocked over a box.” She put her hands on her hips. “What’s going on here?”

Her parents looked at each other and then her father strode to the trash, stepped on the pedal, and dropped the picture into the bin. When he faced her, his face was composed into the no-nonsense look he wore when he was trying to boss her around, which as all the time. “That was someone we knew once.”

“Who was she?” Ariana asked, glancing at the trash.

“Someone who chose not to be in our lives.”

“Was she your brother’s wife?”

“It’s not important.” The groove between his eyebrows deepened. “She’s gone.”

“If she doesn’t matter, why are you so upset?” she asked, curious. Her dad freaked out about specific things, like when his stuff was messed up; he never freaked out about someone rejecting him.

“I’m not upset,” he said loudly. He faced Lillian, glaring. “When is lunch going to be ready?”

Her mom shook herself, obviously still flustered. “A few minutes. I just need to clean up the broken dish.”

Her dad turned to her. “We should discuss your business then.”

“I need to help Mom clean up the mess,” she said quickly, hurrying to the supply closet to get the broom and dust pan and pretending to be seriously engrossed with sweeping. The last thing she wanted was to talk about Dew Me with her dad. Plus, she had the feeling he was trying to divert her. She wished she knew why, because it was just an old picture.

“Edward, maybe you could set the table,” Lillian said.

“CEOs don’t set the table,” he grumbled as he opened the silverware drawer.

“Yes, but you’re retired now,” her mother pointed out. “You need a hobby.”

He grumbled all the way to the dining room.

She shot her mom a grateful look as he left the kitchen. “Thanks,” she mouthed.

Her mom smiled faintly and continued to get lunch ready.

Ariana swept the broken pieces. She opened the trash to throw them away.

On top, there was the photo. Her baby self smiled back at her as the woman who held her glared.

Quickly, so her mom wouldn’t see, she picked it out of the trash and slipped it into her pocket.

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